BOC Group turned in an increase in profit before tax and exceptionals for the first quarter to end-Dec 2005, ahead of market expectations.

Underlying profits from the The group, which rejected a £7.6bn takeover bid from Germany's Linde, said pre-tax profit before exceptional items rose to £131.1m in the three months to 31 December from £127.3m the year before, despite a fall in revenues to £973.5m from £980.6m.

After exceptionals, BOC's pretax profit was £128.8m, an increase from £127.0m the prior year.

In an update alongside the figures, BOC said it currently has ten major plants under construction for projects in Asia and the Americas and these are scheduled to be commissioned later in 2006 and in 2007, generating profits of around £30 m in the first full year of operation.

The board continues to be confident that the current strategy will deliver 'excellent' returns for shareholders.

BOC said it is 'well positioned for growth'.

Chief executive Tony Isaac said 'We continue to be confident that the group's current strategy will deliver growth and excellent returns to our shareholders.'