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Air Liquide Reports Rise in '06 Profit

French industrial and medical gases producer L'Air Liquide on Tuesday reported a 7.4% rise in net profit for 2006, mainly on cost-cutting measures.

The world's second-largest supplier of oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen by revenue also raised its growth and profit target for the next five years, predicting growth opportunities in the energy, environment and health care sectors.

Net profit rose to 1 billion euros ($1.31 billion) in 2006, from 933 million euros reported in 2005, the company said in a statement.

The figure beat market expectations of 988 million euros ($1.3 billion) based on estimates of five analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Operating profit grew 12.8% to 1.66 billion euros ($2.18 billion) in 2006, from 1.47 billion euros in 2005, over revenue of 10.95 billion euros ($14.4 billion), up from 10.44 billion euros in 2005, the company said.

Chairman and CEO Benoit Potier forecast that demand for oxygen and hydrogen gas from the petrochemical and steel-making industries would increase over the coming years.

Air Liquide said it expects like-for-like revenue to grow between 8% and 10% a year in 2007-2011, which should lead to annual growth in net profit of 10% to 13%.

Previously, the company had set a 7-9% revenue growth target for the period.

For 2007, the company sees double-digit growth in net profit.

Air Liquide will propose a 4 euros ($5.25) per share dividend for 2006 as well as a two-for-one share split, the company said.

U.S. rivals Air Products and Chemicalsand Praxair, in January reported double-digit increases in fourth quarter net profit.

Air Liquide stock was down 1.3% to 178.97 euros ($235.52452) at midday Tuesday.

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