January 27, 2010 / 2:11 PM / in 8 years

UPDATE 3-Praxair profit meets Street, shares dip on forecast

* Q4 EPS $1.09 matches Street

* Revenue rises 0.2 percent

* Increases dividend

* Sees Q1, 2010 earnings in ranges mostly below Street

* Shares fall 3.7 percent in afternoon trading

(Recasts; Adds conference call details, stock movement)

By Ernest Scheyder

NEW YORK, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Praxair Inc (PX.N) posted a spike in fourth-quarter profit that met expectations, though shares of the industrial gas supplier slipped 3.7 percent after a tepid forecast for 2010.

The Danbury, Connecticut-based company said on Wednesday demand in manufacturing, metal fabrication, and nonresidential construction had lagged in North America and Europe, but that business in Asia and South America is showing "strong improvement."

"The rate of recovery from the recession has been mixed," Chief Executive Steve Angel said in a statement. "For 2010, we are cautiously optimistic that growth in the U.S. and Europe will continue to improve, but we expect the climb to be slow and deliberate."

The company posted net income of $340 million, or $1.09 per share, compared with $200 million, or 64 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts on average expected earnings of $1.09 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Part of the earnings jump was due to a large charge in the year-ago period. The company laid off about 1,600 employees in the fourth quarter of 2008, which led to the charge.

Revenue rose 0.2 percent to $2.41 billion. Analysts expected $2.42 billion.

Jefferies & Co. analyst Laurence Alexander kept a "buy" rating on the stock after the results were posted, saying Praxair's operational leverage to pricing cycles in the U.S., Europe and Brazil should help boost cash flow despite potential volatility.

DIVIDEND RAISED

Praxair raised its quarterly dividend to 45 cents a share from 40 cents, payable on March 15 to shareholders of record March 5.

"This action reflects our confidence in Praxair's ability to maintain a high quality business throughout the economic cycles," Angel said.

For the first quarter, the company expects earnings of $1.05 to $1.10 per share, excluding special items. The forecast is in a range mostly below the $1.09 analysts expect.

For the full year, the company expects profit of $4.43 to $4.63 per share on sales of about $10 billion. The forecast is in a range mostly below the $4.61 analysts expect

Shares fell $2.45, or 3.1 percent, to $76.21 in afternoon trading. The stock has traded between $53.35 and $86.07 in the past 52 weeks.

Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Dave Zimmerman, Phil Berlowitz

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