* 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 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
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