Airgas Inc. has reported strong growth in sales, operating income, and record earnings for its first quarter ended 30th June 2008 - while also reiterating its strong outlook for energy and infrastructure construction.

Quarterly net earnings grew 33% to $68.9m, compared to $51.7m in the prior year, while first quarter sales increased 22% from the prior year to $1.1bn.

Acquisitions contributed 15% to the increase, and total same-store sales grew 7% in the quarter, with hardgoods up 6% and gas and rent up 7%.

“Our strategic product categories, which are focused on healthcare, life sciences, research, environmental, and food and beverage markets, comprising about 40% of our sales, posted 10% organic growth in the quarter,” said Airgas Chairman and CEO Peter McCausland.

“The strong outlook for energy and infrastructure construction continues, and export activity is still supporting US manufacturers in the face of slowing domestic demand. Acquisition activity is also contributing to our growth, and we have announced more than $130m of acquired annual revenue since our fiscal year began in April.”

Free cash flow in the quarter was an impressive $58m, compared to $28m in the prior year, and McCausland added, “We continue to generate strong free cash flow, which fuels our strategic growth initiatives. Costs escalated in the quarter faster than we planned, but we remain committed to staying ahead of the cost curve and our recently announced pricing action should accomplish that.”