February 13, 2020 / 12:08 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 2-Industrial gases giant Linde rises to record share high, bets on growth

* Aims for 10%-13% ex-FX 2020 EPS growth

* German-listed shares hit all-time high

* CEO says sees softening economic conditions

* CEO sees no significant coronavirus impact (Updates after conference call, adds quotes, context)

By Bartosz Dabrowski

Feb 13 (Reuters) - The world's largest industrial gases group Linde Plc said on Thursday it aimed to defy a weak economic backdrop and deliver robust earnings growth this year, building on resilient sales in the United States.

The company's German-listed shares rose to their highest since they began trading in 2017 and were up 3.6% by 1605 GMT, topping Germany's blue chip index DAX.

In New York trade, where an all-time high was touched last month, the stock rose 2.3%.

The supplier of gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen to factories and hospitals said it targets 10% to 13% earnings per share (EPS) growth, excluding currency effects, to $8.00 to $8.25 in 2020.

"We anticipate continued softening of macro-economic conditions, but project double-digit EPS growth from our industry-leading backlog and continued efforts to optimise the business," Linde Chief Executive Steve Angel said in statement.

Analysts on average see EPS growing to $8.07, according to Refinitiv data, after a better-than-expected 23% jump in adjusted pro-forma EPS excluding currency effects to $7.34 in 2019, above consensus for $7.29.

Jefferies analysts said Linde's results were solid, the outlook was broadly in line with expectations and it should cope with the economic uncertainties expected to continue this year.

Linde Plc was formed by a 2018 merger of the German Linde AG and its U.S. rival Praxair. Jefferies predicted continued synergies from the tie-up should add between 50 and 100 basis points to Linde's sales growth in 2021-2024.

In the fourth quarter, U.S. sales rose 2% year-on-year, driven by resilient demand from healthcare and the food and beverage sector, while sales in other regions.

Linde generates just below 40% of its revenues in Europe and about 30% in both Asia-Pacific and the Americas.

Asked about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, Linde's CEO said he does not see much impact for the company's operations in China as only a small fraction of its staff is based in Wuhan, but said the group's products would be in demand.

"We prioritise the flow of key products that are needed to fight this virus, like oxygen, medical gases," Angel said.

The U.S.-German company raised its earnings outlook three times last year, counting on price hikes and cost reductions to offset the effects of a global economic slowdown.

Linde's biggest competitor, France-based Air Liquide , on Tuesday reported full-year sales in line with analyst expectations, while its smaller U.S. rival Air Products reported a slight earnings beat at the end of January. (Reporting by Bartosz Dabrowski in Gdansk; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Barbara Lewis)

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