Air Liquide announce that 2004 results increased net earnings per share of 7.5% and has led the way for a dividend of €3.50 per share to be announced at the next General Shareholders meeting.

The board of Air Liquide, chaired by Alan Joly, met last week to review the financial statements for 2004 presented by Benoit Portier, Chairman of the Management Board.

Mr Portier said, “The year 2004 marked a return to steadier growth in our key businesses, particularly with rapid development of hydrogen and emerging Asia, and renewed momentum in our US markets and Healthcare in Europe. This growth was reinforced by the successful acquisition and integration of Messer activities.

In this context, the Group has delivered a further increase in profits for 2004, whilst maintaining margins, thanks to its renewed productivity initiatives.

Furthermore, strong cash flow and a selective approach to investment ensure continued financial strength; with debt levels lower than anticipated and very good return on capital employed.

Overall, 2004 was a milestone year for the Group. In light of this good performance and a favourable outlook, the Management Board is proposing a significant dividend increase.

Our business successes over the past three years and dynamic growth drivers position us to target, once again, a growth rate in net earnings in 2005 at least comparable to that published in 2004.”

Key figures for the year were their consolidated sales figure of €9,367 million, an increase of +11.7%. Excluding foreign exchange, natural gas and the consolidation impact of Messer and JVs in Singapore and Hong Kong, the increase was +7.1%

Net Earnings per share were €7.20 representing an increase in +7.8% on 2003, +10.3% excluding foreign exchange.

Operating profit before depreciation and amortisation was €2,191 million, an increase of +9.3% and of +12% excluding foreign exchange.

The Messer acquisition marked a turning point for the group, giving it new momentum and market presence. The integration of teams and the final transactions were complete in the less then a year. Net investments amount to €2 billion for retained full year sales in the order of €780 million

Leading onto capital expenditure, with the acquisition of Messer, the total for the year was €998 million. The decision to pursue growth meant that at the 31st December 2004, the ratio of capex to sales was 10.6%.

Looking at Air Liquide’s performance on a geographical basis, operating profit in Europe rose to €881 million, particularly related to Northern-European activities. In America, operating profit was around €311, reflecting sustained growth in sales volumes, and in Asia-Pacific, operating profit was €218 million.

2004 was an important year for Air Liquide’s development and the Group’s financial strength continues with a positive trend in 2005.