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Lincare Said to Draw Interest From Linde and Air Liquide

Lincare Holdings Inc., a U.S. provider of oxygen and respiratory therapy services, is seeking a buyer and has attracted interest from companies including Germany’s Linde AG, three people familiar with the sale said.

Air Liquide SA of France has also expressed interest, one of the people said. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is advising Clearwater, Florida-based Lincare in talks with potential buyers, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private. Linde, the world’s second-biggest maker of industrial gases, has also hired investment banks to advise it on a possible bid, two people said.

Lincare gained 5.3 percent to $34.02 at the close yesterday in New York. Since the close of June 26, Lincare has increased 35 percent, valuing the firm at $2.9 billion (2.3 billion euros). The Financial Times’s FT Alphaville reported on June 27 that Linde is leading the bidding in an auction for the U.S. company, citing unidentified sources.

Linde Chief Executive Officer Wolfgang Reitzle has identified health care as one of the firm’s growth areas and in January agreed to buy Air Products & Chemicals Inc.’s home-care business.

The talks may be focused on a deal between Linde and Lincare and an agreement could be reached as early as next week, one of the people said. Still, no final decision on a sale has been made and talks could fall apart, the person said.

Lincare may be worth $40 or more per share if it’s bought, Brian Tanquilut, an analyst at Jefferies Group Inc., said in a note this week, raising the stock to “buy.”

Private equity firms may also be interested in the company, said one of the people. The company is an “ideal” leveraged buyout target, Gary Taylor, a Citigroup Inc. analyst, wrote in a note this week. Blackstone Group LP could be a potential buyer after its 2008 purchase of Apria Healthcare Group Inc., a U.S. provider of home-medical equipment, Taylor wrote.

Spokesmen for JPMorgan, Air Liquide and Linde declined to comment. A spokesman for Lincare wasn’t available for comment.

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