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UPDATE 1-Linde sees 2021 double-digit earnings growth after Q4 beat

(Adds further details, CEO comment)

Feb 5 (Reuters) - U.S.-German industrial gas producer Linde beat expectations with fourth quarter earnings and said it was targeting a 11-13% rise in adjusted earnings per share in 2021 irrespective of economic conditions.

The supplier of gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen to factories and hospitals said its fourth-quarter adjusted earnings per share were $2.30, above the $2.14 expected on average by analysts according to a Refinitiv poll.

Linde also reported a 12% rise in adjusted EPS for 2020, citing price increases and productivity gains, and forecast first-quarter EPS growth of 16% to 19%.

“I have confidence in our ability to grow EPS double-digit percent irrespective of the macro environment while also leveraging any economic recovery,” Chief Executive Steve Angel said in statement.

Linde’s sectors with strongest growth were healthcare and electronics, with sales up 9% and 8%, respectively, due to both higher pricing and volume growth, with the coronavirus pandemic boosting demand for oxygen.

Linde’s biggest competitor Air Liquide is due to report on Feb. 10, while smaller U.S. rival Air Products on Thursday reported first-quarter earnings below expectations, citing, among others, lower demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Linde has large, long-term contracts in industries such as healthcare, food, beverages, electronics and energy, which help the company sustain steady performance during economic downturns, with customers ranging from Gazprom to Exxon Mobil.

Linde’s Frankfurt-listed shares were up 1.6% at 1130 GMT, and are up 53% since mid-March when the spread of the coronavirus triggered a sell-off in global stocks, topping the European chemicals sector index. (Reporting by Bartosz Dabrowski in Gdansk Additional reporting by Anna Rzhevkina in Gdansk Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

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