(Adds Dufour’s comments on outlook in fifth paragraph.)
Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Air Liquide SA, the world’s biggest producer of industrial gases, reported third-quarter sales in line with analysts’ estimates on revenue from developing economies.
Third-quarter sales rose 4.9 percent to 3.60 billion euros ($5 billion), the Paris-based company said today in a statement. The average estimate in a Bloomberg survey of eight analysts was for sales of 3.61 billion euros. Excluding the effect of currencies, the sale of an electronics subsidiary, and natural gas prices, revenue climbed 6.6 percent.
“In the face of an unsettled economic and financial situation, particularly in Europe with the tension over sovereign debt, the group can rely on the robustness of its business model” Chief Executive Officer Benoit Potier said in the statement. He reiterated that “Air Liquide is confident in its ability to continue to generate steady growth of net profit” in 2011, “assuming normal economic conditions.”
Potier has predicted annual sales of gas and services may rise by 8 percent to 10 percent on average through 2015 as the company boosts investments in China, Russia, the Middle East and other fast-growing regions. The company aims to meet rising demand for oxygen, hydrogen and other gases used by the oil-and- gas industry and makers of steel, cars, flat and solar panels, as well as hospitals and the home-care industry.
Asked about the outlook for Air Liquide’s markets in the coming months, Senior Executive Vice-President Pierre Dufour said customers are cautious as they wait to see how European governments fix their debt crisis and how the U.S. improves its budgetary situation.
“It’s a mixed feeling as we wait for today’s declaration of the heads of states in Europe and the constant evolution of the budgetary discussions in the U.S.,” Dufour said on a conference call today. “As our customers are cautious as they should be, we’ll see a little softening here and there, but overall, unless there is a crash down at some point, we still expect business to grow, albeit probably at a lower rate that what has been in 2010.”
Air Liquide shares were down 1 percent at 91.18 euros as of 12:22 p.m. in Paris trading, taking this year’s drop to 3.7 percent.
The steel market “is softening as steelmakers closed furnaces in France Belgium and Canada, and the electronics industry “will come back to a more normal level of growth” at “very low single digits next year,” Dufour said. Conversely, the home health-care market will probably grow “at close to 10 percent,” and the hygiene market should continue to be “extremely buoyant.”
“We don’t see our markets to crash down at this point, we don’t see our markets to perform extraordinary well either, we just see a lot of customers being cautious,” Dufour said. “This is why we are also cautious with cost and cash.”
The company said it cut costs by 192 million euros in the first nine months of the year, ahead of its annual target for more than 200 million euros of efficiency gains. The net debt level, which amounted to 5.64 billion euros at the end of September is “under control,” the company said.
--Editors: Benedikt Kammel, Andrew Noel
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