UPDATE 1-Praxair raises dividend, sets new $1.5 bln buyback plan

Wed Jan 29, 2014 7:45am EST

* Fourth-quarter adj. profit $1.55/share, in line with estimates

* Sees first-quarter profit $1.48-$1.53/share vs est. $1.57

* Sees 2014 profit $6.25-$6.55/share vs est. $5.92

Jan 29 (Reuters) - Praxair Inc, the largest industrial gas supplier in the Americas, raised its dividend by 8 percent and set another $1.5 billion share buyback plan, after its quarterly profit rose due to strong sales and acquisitions.

Praxair, however, forecast first-quarter earnings below analysts' estimates, citing the impact of a strong U.S. dollar as half of its revenue is generated outside North America.

The company's profit rose 15 percent in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, helped by higher sales to energy, metals, chemicals and manufacturing markets and increased prices.

Acquisition of NuCO2 Inc and some packaged gas distributors also aided Praxair's quarterly results.

Weak demand for packaged gas - the sale of gases such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen, helium and acetylene in metal cylinders to customers requiring small volumes - had weighed on Praxair's results in recent quarters.

But the company is now benefiting from higher demand from petroleum refining, chemicals and aerospace markets.

Smaller rival Air Products and Chemicals Inc, whose quarterly sales were hurt by weak European demand for packaged gas, also forecast a lower-than-expected profit for the current quarter on Tuesday.

Praxair said it expected to earn $1.48-$1.53 per share in the first quarter. Analysts were expecting $1.57 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company's 2014 earnings forecast of $6.25-$6.55 per share was above the average analyst estimate of $5.92 per share.

Praxair forecast full-year revenue of $12.3 billion-$12.8 billion, slightly above analysts' expectations of $11.95 billion.

The company raised its quarterly dividend to 65 cents per share from 60 cents per share.

Its new $1.5 billion share buyback plan is in addition to a $1.5 billion repurchase program that is expected to be completed this year.

Praxair's net income rose to $474 million, or $1.59 per share, in the fourth quarter from $414 million, or $1.38 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned $1.55 per share, in line with analysts' estimates.

Revenue rose 7.5 percent to $3.01 billion.

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