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Airgas Says Earnings May Miss Guidance as Sales Unchanged

March 21 (Bloomberg) -- Airgas Inc., the largest U.S. distributor of packaged gases, said it may not meet its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings guidance after sales didn’t increase through February. The shares fell the most in 10 months.

The lack of sales growth, excluding acquisitions, suggests Airgas may miss the low end of its earnings forecast by about 4 percent, the Radnor, Pennsylvania-based company said today in a statement. Airgas in January forecast adjusted earnings of $1.18 to $1.24 a share in the three months through March. The average of 15 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg was for per-share profit of $1.23.

Chairman Peter McCausland, who built Airgas with almost 450 acquisitions since founding the company in 1982, stepped down as chief executive officer in August to focus on strategy and acquisitions. February sales fell about 2 percent from a year earlier after a gain in January, McCausland said. Sales through February trail guidance by 2 percent to 3 percent, he said.

“We hope to make up some ground before the end of the month,” McCausland said in the statement. “However, given the daily sales nature of our business and the limited visibility in the economy, we cannot accurately predict at this time where we will land for the quarter.”

Airgas fell 5.2 percent to $97.96 at the close in New York, the biggest decline since May 17. The shares have gained 7.3 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Kaskey in Houston at jkaskey@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Casey at scasey4@bloomberg.net

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