UPDATE 1-Air Liquide sees further profit growth in 2014

Tue Feb 18, 2014 2:57am EST

* Net income rises 3.1 pct to 1.64 bln eur

* Sales slip 0.7 pct to 15.225 bln eur

* To increase dividend for 2013 by 2 pct (Adds detail, background)

PARIS, Feb 18 (Reuters) - French industrial gases group Air Liquide said it was confident of further earnings growth this year as it posted a 3.1 percent rise in 2013 net profit, helped by cost cuts, and demand at its gas and services division.

Air Liquide provides industrial gases used in the food, auto, chemical, oil and gas, aerospace, and semiconductor sectors, as well as in engineering and construction. It also supplies medical gases that help patients breathe, relieve pain or are used in anaesthesia.

The group in December forecast it would outpace the market through 2020 as it focuses on products to help save energy, produce cleaner power and provide healthcare for ageing populations, as well as on emerging markets.

"The progress the group made during 2013 reflects the return to a more supportive economic climate during the year and an increase in the pace of growth in the United States and China," Chief Executive Benoit Potier said on Tuesday.

"Barring a degradation of the environment, Air Liquide is confident in its ability to deliver another year of net profit growth in 2014."

Full-year net income was 1.64 billion euros ($2.25 billion), up 5.5 percent excluding the impact of exchange rates. Sales slipped 0.7 percent to 15.225 billion, for a 3.1 percent rise excluding currency moves.

The operating margin improved to 16.9 percent last year from 16.7 percent in 2012, Air Liquide said.

The group said it achieved 303 million euros of efficiencies last year - or cost savings of 2.6 percent - ahead of its target of more than 250 million, thanks to adjustments in markets where demand has suffered, as well as improvements in energy use, logistics and purchasing.

Air Liquide said it would propose a 2 percent increase in the dividend paid to shareholders on 2013 earnings to 2.55 euros a share, for a payout ratio of almost 50 percent.

($1 = 0.7298 euros) (Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Dominique Vidalon and Mark Potter)