Airgas, Inc. has announced that the Board of Directors has increased the quarterly cash dividend on the company’s common stock, to $0.18 per share from $0.16.

The dividend will be payable 30th June 2009, to shareholders of record as of 15th June 2009.

“This dividend increase is a way to reward our shareholders in a tough environment,” commented Airgas Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Peter McCausland.

“We are fortunate that Airgas’ strong cash flow supports this action and allows us to continue to pursue our growth strategies in this challenging economy.”

A challenging economy indeed – it was only in March that the company cited ‘prevailing economic conditions offering limited visibility’ and lowered its earnings guidance for the fourth quarter ending 31st March 2009.

Those very same conditions then placed a damper on results earlier this month, Airgas’ record year in terms of earnings and cash flow was hindered by the weak financial climate. Quarterly earnings declined 11% to $0.68 per diluted share, while fourth quarter sales were $1.0bn compared to $1.1bn in the previous year, a decline of 9%.

However, the company is using this time to strengthen its operations, so that it is well positioned for growth when the economy begins to recover, and McCausland explained in early May, “Given the difficult sales environment, we moved quickly to curtail costs and capital spending. As a result, our operating margin in the quarter held up relatively well, declining modestly to 11.5% from 12.1% last year.”

“The current environment puts a damper on what was a record year for Airgas in earnings and cash flow, but we’re using this time to strengthen our operations so that we are well-positioned for growth when the economy begins to recover.”