"We are now beginning to benefit from an upturn in trading conditions around the world," he said. "Our margins were helped by firm pricing as well as business efficiency and cost saving programmes. Cash flow is strong and the changes we are making to our business portfolio with recent acquisitions and planned disposals will further strengthen the group."
Increased demand for nitrogen, particularly for food freezing, led to an overall improvement in US nitrogen volumes. New business at Celanese Clear Lake, Texas, and with Citgo at Lemont, Illinois, also contributed to an overall increase in turnover and adjusted operating profit.
However, turnover comparisons in North America continued to be affected by reduced volumes of oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide to certain customers as reported in May last year.
In Europe, tonnage and merchant volumes improved across a broad range of customers leading to increased turnover. The impact of customer relocations and closures in the UK was significantly reduced and there was a better trading environment in the first quarter.
The increased turnover coupled with cost savings in plant operations and distribution led to a significant improvement in adjusted operating profit in Europe.
The BOC Group is one of the largest and most global of the world's leading gases companies. Serving two million customers in more than 50 countries, BOC employs some 44,500 people and had annual sales of over £4.3 billion in 2003.