Airgas 4Q Profit Rises

Airgas said fiscal fourth-quarter net income rose 56 percent, even as it had to spend millions in legal fees and other expenses to fend off a hostile takeover.

RADNOR, Pa. (AP) -- Airgas Inc. said its fiscal fourth-quarter net income rose 56 percent, even as the company had to spend millions in legal fees and other expenses to fend off a hostile takeover bid.

Airgas, the nation's largest distributor of industrial, medical, and specialty gases, also announced a $300 million stock buyback program Thursday.

Airgas said its net income for the quarter ended March 31 was $62.6 million, or 74 cents per share, compared with $40.1 million, or 47 cents per share, during the same period last year.

The company also reported adjusted net income of 88 cents per share, a figure that excludes legal fees and other expenses related to an unsolicited takeover bid from competitor Air Products & Chemicals Inc. The bid ultimately failed after being derailed by Airgas's board of directors, who argued that shareholders would get a better deal if the company remained independent.

Airgas said revenue during the quarter rose 11 percent to $1.1 billion from $983 million during the same period last year.

The results beat analyst expectations for adjusted earnings of 85 cents per share on revenue of $1.07 billion, according to FactSet.

The company said its results were driven by stronger demand from industrial customers as the U.S. economic recovery gained steam earlier this year.

"The manufacturing recovery that began in the central regions of the U.S. among larger customers is now evident more broadly throughout the country and in smaller manufacturers," Airgas CEO Peter McCausland said in a statement.

Airgas set its adjusted earnings outlook for the fiscal first quarter at 92 cents to 97 cents per share. Analysts expect 96 cents a share.

It outlook for the fiscal year 2012 is in line with analyst expectations. The company said it expects to earn an adjusted net income between $3.75 and $3.90 per share. Analysts had been expecting $3.85 per share.

The company's stock repurchase program follows a $300 million buyback completed at the end of March. The company said it will purchase its shares periodically based on market conditions.

"This new share repurchase program reflects our continuing confidence in the future. Our business is strengthening, our balance sheet is solid, and we continue to generate strong cash flow," McCausland said.

The company said its net income for fiscal year 2011 rose to $249.8 million, or $2.93 per share, from $196.3 million, or $2.34 per share, during the same period last year. Revenue for the fiscal year rose to $4.25 billion from $3.88 billion the year before.

Shares of Airgas fell 1 cent to $67.66 in afternoon trading.

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