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UPDATE 2-Gases firm Linde boosted by healthcare, ramps up oxygen production

·2 min read

* Hikes 2021 guidance, boosted by healthcare

* First-quarter adjusted EPS beats forecasts

* India medical oxygen production up 10-fold (Adds detail from call)

By Sarah Morland and Veronica Snoj

May 6 (Reuters) - Linde , the world's largest industrial gases company, hiked its 2021 earnings outlook on Thursday, as a strong performance in its healthcare business helped it beat first quarter forecasts.

The U.S.-German company, which supplies gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen to factories and hospitals, now expects adjusted earnings per share to rise 17-19% year-on-year - compared with its previous forecast for 11-13% growth.

Higher prices and growing demand in the healthcare sector - where Linde supplies equipment and medical gases including oxygen for COVID-19 patients - helped its sales in Europe, the Middle East and Africa jump 10% in the first quarter.

The pandemic has driven up demand for medical oxygen, particularly in India, where severe shortages and logistics problems have seen dozens of hospitals run short in recent weeks.

Chief Operating Officer Sanjiv Lamba said that teams in India were now producing more than 3,000 tonnes of medical oxygen daily, nearly ten-fold the figure four weeks ago.

"We've deployed about 1,200 drivers on the road, serving about 1,000 hospitals in the country," he added.

Linde, India's biggest oxygen producer, and other suppliers are ramping up production to more than 9,000 tonnes per day by mid-May, an executive told Reuters last week.

Lamba noted similar challenges in Mexico, Brazil and other Latin American countries - where infections continue to spread, filling up intensive care units, even as restrictions ease.

Linde's overall earnings per share for January-March rose 32% to $2.49, beating analysts' average estimate of $2.26 and its own guidance.

Linde's biggest competitor, Air Liquide, also beat analysts' forecasts last month, driven by strong demand for medical oxygen and an industrial rebound in China. (Reporting by Sarah Morland and Veronica Snoj in Gdansk. Editing by Mark Potter, Kirsten Donovan)