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Airgas lowers full-year profit prediction

RADNOR, Pa. (AP) -- Airgas Inc., which sells gases to hospitals and industrial companies, said Tuesday that its fiscal second-quarter earnings rose 4 percent as the weak economy dampened demand among key customers.

The company lowered its earnings forecast for the rest of the year, saying that business in October was similar to the previous three months and that tight supplies of helium were cutting into sales.

Airgas predicted that full-year profit excluding restructuring costs will range between $4.45 and $4.60 per share. That's down from an original prediction of $4.70 to $4.85 per share and below analysts' forecast of $4.64 per share.

The company predicted adjusted earnings of $1.05 to $1.11 per share in the quarter that ends in December, while analysts surveyed by FactSet expected $1.14 per share.

Separately, the company announced a program to buy back up to $600 million in stock.

In the company's fiscal second quarter, which ended Sept. 30, net income increased to $81 million, or $1.03 per share, from $77.9 million, or $1.01 per share, a year ago.

The company said that without a restructuring charge it would have earned $1.05 per share. Analysts expected $1.06.

Revenue rose 4 percent to $1.23 billion from $1.19 billion a year earlier, while analysts had forecast $1.25 billion.

The company said the economy had weakened demand for gases among metal-fabrication and energy companies.