Linde, the world No. 2 industrial gases producer, beat quarterly profit forecasts and hiked its dividend, showing confidence that strong infrastructure spending in emerging markets can offset weaker demand in Europe.
Shares in the German company climbed 4 per cent to a new high of 131.15 euros after it predicted further growth in profit and sales this year and lifted its dividend by 13.6 per cent.
“The dividend proposal for 2011 of 2.50 euros is a positive surprise for us and the market,” BHF Bank analyst Annett Weber said. Analysts had expected a dividend of 2.20 euros per share.
Demand for industrial gases is being driven by the need to lower carbon emissions from manufacturing processes and to feed emerging market appetite for steel, metal fabrication and petrochemicals to boost infrastructure.
Emerging markets generated a third of sales in Linde’s main gases division last year, with Asia-Pacific posting double-digit growth in operating profit compared with single-digit growth rates in Europe and Americas.
“Whereas demand in most developed economies should cool somewhat in 2012 in comparison with 2011, growth in the emerging economies is expected to continue unabated,” Linde said.
The clean fuel drive not only creates new markets like coal gasification, which consume vast quantities of industrial gases, but also boosts demand for hydrogen.
Linde reiterated its mid-term forecast to achieve an operating profit of at least 4 billion euros by 2014. At 1010 GMT, its shares were up 3.9 per cent at 130.85 euros, the second-largest rise by a European blue chip stock.
Analysts said the euro zone debt crisis and high energy prices had an impact on industrial gases sector last year, but not as much as the overall chemical industry because long-term gases contracts generate highly predictable revenues.
Linde has been pushing ahead with a multi-year savings programme aimed at slashing 650-800 million euros of costs by the end of 2012. It cut costs by 160 million euros last year, bringing the programme’s total savings to 620 million so far.
Linde’s main customers are in the steel and chemical sectors but the company also supplies gases used to process solar cells, make LCD flat screens and lift the giant helium character balloons of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the United States.