Airgas, Inc. has today reported net earnings of $63m, or $0.74 per diluted share, for the fourth fiscal quarter of 2011.

Over the fourth quarter ended 31st March 2011 sales increased 12% on the prior year to $1.1bn, total same-store sales increased 11% in the quarter, with hardgoods up 14% and both gas and rent up 9%. Sequentially total sales increased 7% from the third quarter, while sales per day appreciated 3%.

Peter McCausland, Airgas CEO, attributed the incline to a regional recovery across central North America. In an official statement released today by the firm, he commented, “The manufacturing recovery that began in the central regions of the U.S. among larger customers is now evident more broadly throughout the country and in smaller manufacturers. Our medical business began to accelerate this quarter, and utilities and petrochemical customers, as well as customers using our products and services for repair and maintenance operations, continued to show strength.”

McCausland reflected, “We continue to leverage our national footprint and industry-leading platform as sales volumes recover, improving our adjusted operating margin for the quarter by 140 basis points year-over-year to 12.1% and posting record earnings in sales that are still below pre-recession levels.”

A full year overview of the company’s activity revealed an annual sales increase of 10% up to $4.3bn. Similarly, net earnings for the year were $250m, or $2.93 per diluted share. However, free cash flow declined moderately from $412m in 2010, to $387m in 2011. According to the firm this modest depreciation reflected an increase in working capital to support sales growth.

A view to 2012
Airgas anticipates adjusted earnings per diluted share for the first quarter of fiscal 2012 to increase from $0.83, obtained during 2011, to a range between $0.92 - $0.97.

Looking towards fiscal 2012, the firm expects adjusted earnings per diluted share to increase from $3.34 in 2011, to between $3.75 - $3.90. This includes $0.32 of SAP implementation costs and depreciation expense, compared to $0.14 in fiscal 2011.

McCausland commented, “The rollout of SAP at our first regional distribution company, Airgas South, which went live at the beginning of April, has been very successful and reinforces our confidence in the benefits we expect to achieve. SAP implementation costs will be heaviest in fiscal 2012, and we expect to complete the implementation in fiscal 2013 as the benefits begin to ramp up.”

“Even with considerable SAP implementation costs still to be incurred, we remain on track to beat our calendar 2012 earnings goal of at least $4.20 per diluted share.”