* 2012 operating profit 3.53 bln euros, meets consensus
* 2012 profits boosted by recently-acquired Lincare
* Margins shrink in EMEA, Asia-Pacific on weak economy
* Linde sees 2013 operating profit of at least 4 bln euros
FRANKFURT, March 7 Germany's Linde, the world's No. 2 industrial gases producer, expects its operating profit to rise to at least 5 billion euros ($6.5 billion) in 2016 after posting solid growth in 2012.
The firm reported on Thursday a 10 percent gain in full-year operating profit to 3.53 billion euros, in line with analysts' expectations, bolstered by last year's acquisition of U.S.-based Lincare.
Lincare, a provider of oxygen and respiratory therapy services to patients in the home, contributed 630 million euros of Linde's annual sales of 15.28 billion euros.
Outside the United States, Linde felt the pinch of a tough economy, which hurt its margins in Europe as well as former growth engine Asia-Pacific. The operating profit margin for the overall gases business narrowed to 27 percent from 27.5 percent.
But Linde said it was still aiming for an increase in sales this year and operating profit of at least 4 billion euros thanks to the expected earnings contribution of Lincare.
The bulk of Linde's customers are in the steel-making, oil refining and semiconductors industries but its gases are also used to help asthma patients breathe more easily and lift the balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Linde trades at 16.4 times estimated 12-month forward earnings, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine, which weights analysts' estimates according to their track record.
That is a discount to French rival Air Liquide and U.S.-based Praxair, which trade at multiples of 16.8 and 18.6, respectively, but a premium to Air Products' 14.3.