Praxair Inc.'s (PX) fourth-quarter earnings surged as the industrial-gas supplier saw a comparably weak quarter last year that was hampered by a large tax-related charge, while the company also unveiled a $1.5 billion buyback program.
The company forecast downbeat 2012 earnings of $5.70 to $5.90 a share, on revenue of $11.7 billion to $12 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently expected earnings of $5.98 and revenue of $12.1 billion.
For the first quarter, Praxair expects a profit of $1.33 to $1.38, compared with market predictions of $1.41. It said it anticipates negative currency impacts year-over-year of about 7 cents.
Praxair, the largest industrial gas company in North America and South America, has maintained better earnings on recent strength in Asia and South America, though North America remains its biggest market, making up about half its sales.
For the latest period, Praxair reported a profit of $420 million, or $1.38 a share, up from $133 million, or 43 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding a Spanish tax settlement-related charge of 80 cents a share in the year-earlier quarter and other special items, income rose to $1.36 from $1.25. In October, the company forecast earnings of $1.33 to $1.38 a share.
Revenue rose 6.6% to $2.8 billion, just below expectations of $2.84 billion.
Gross margin narrowed to 42.8% from 43.1%.
Sales in North America rose 7% to $1.4 billion on strong sales growth to manufacturing, energy, chemicals and metals markets, and operating profit grew 17%. South America sales improved 8%, as Asia sales rose 6%. Sales in Europe were up 12% on the acquisition of increased ownership of Yara Praxair in Scandinavia.
Shares closed Tuesday at $109.10 and were inactive premarket. The stock is up 7.3% over the past three months.
-By Ben Fox Rubin, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3108; firstname.lastname@example.org