Airgas' executive chairman remains optimistic about the direction of the U.S. economy, even as the distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases announced that it would likely miss its earnings guidance for its fiscal year fourth quarter, which ends March 31, 2013.
"Organic sales growth in our distribution segment has been disappointing," Peter McCausland said, speaking at the 2013 BB&T Capital Markets Commercial & Industrial Conference in Coral Gables, FL.
Same-store sales were down 2 percent in February. The shortfall, according to McCausland, was volume-related and affected the company "across the board." Several factors, from weather to "distraction" from the SAP implementation, contributed to the slowness, but primarily, "It's more of the same. More of the lull that started last March," he said.
Even with that lull, McCausland expects the U.S. economy to continue to pick up, particularly in manufacturing, energy and non-residential construction. "We have headwinds, there's no question," he said. "The strong dollar, government inaction, weakness in Europe and Asia are all contributing to the headwinds."
But there are a lot of positive signs, as well, with U.S. manufacturing customers saying the outlook is bright. "We think our theory about a manufacturing renaissance and energy boom is right on target," McCausland said, though it will be delayed for "we don't know how long."
McCausland said the company would be renewing its efforts in acquisitions, looking to expand its core business and product and service adjacencies, though the pace is slower than in the past. "Many companies are waiting to get back to even" before selling, he said. But there are several prospects in the pipeline already.
Airgas has completed 15 acquisitions so far in fiscal year 2013.