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Airgas, Inc.,Radnor, PA, the largest U.S. distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases, welding, safety and related products, reported fiscal 2005 net sales increased 27% to $2.4 billion. Net earnings for the year ended Mar. 31, 2005 were $92.0 million, up 13% from $80.2 million the previous year.
Fourth quarter sales increased 26% to $656 million reflecting strong same-store sales and price gains, as well as acquisitions. Total same-store sales were up 11% compared to the same quarter a year ago, with gas and rent up 8% and hardgoods up 14%. These results reflect continued improvement in manufacturing and other industrial market segments. "We are very encouraged by our sales momentum, especially the strength in gases, and by the continued trend into April," said Airgas Chairman and CEO Peter McCausland. "The price increases initiated in March are gaining traction and helping to offset cost pressures related to the purchase and delivery of our products."
Net earnings for the quarter grew 12% to $24.2 million, compared to $21.7 million in the same period a year ago. The current quarter includes expenses of $0.02 per diluted share related to the integration of the U.S. packaged gas business acquired from The BOC Group and the separation package for the Company's former COO.
"We grew fiscal 2005 earnings per share by 18%, excluding the non-recurring gains and charges noted herein, reflecting very good business trends," said McCausland. "We are seeing strength across our business units and customer segments. Additionally, we surpassed our growth goals for our strategic platforms of bulk gas, safety products and strategic accounts, and also had good growth in medical and specialty gas. We expect continued strength in the year ahead."
Year to date, adjusted debt increased by $145 million as a result of acquisitions, primarily the BOC acquisition. Free cash flow for the year ended March 31, 2005 was $63 million, the majority of which was generated in the fourth quarter, compared to $115 million in the comparable prior year. The year over year decline is mainly attributed to increased inventories and accounts receivable in connection with overall sales growth and the BOC acquisition, as well as capital expenditures to support the growth in strategic products. After-tax cash flow for the comparable periods was $218 million versus $187 million.