Air Liquide, Praxair bide their time

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Thursday, October 31, 2002

YARMOUTH, Maine — With its $165 million acquisition of American Homecare Supply, Air Products may be making all the noise, but that doesn't mean competitors Air Liquide and Praxair aren't going about their business of building sizeable HME companies in the United States.

"We are going to go at our own time table," said Al Sperry, Air Liquide vice president. "That time table hasn't changed because Praxair or Air Products or any body else does something."

Air Liquide paid $18 million in 2000 for InHome Medical, a Florida-based company with 22 locations in north Florida and one each in Georgia and South Carolina. Since then the company has focused its efforts on integrating and fine-tuning the company's billing systems, Sperry said.

"The goal is to make sure we are as efficient as possible and as effective as possible," Sperry said. "We didn't come over here to be a small player."

Praxair has been more active on the acquisition front. In 2001, Praxair acquired Falls Medical, a $10-million HME in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and Healthcare Partners, a $25-million HME in Louisville, Kentucky. Those deals came on the heels of Praxair acquiring Salt Lake City based Interwest Home Medical for $42 million, plus assuming about $20 million in debt.

Since then the company has been quiet. A Praxair official, however, said the company has a "committed growth strategy through acquisition and growth of existing businesses in markets we are already in."

In fact, home medical equipment is one of four "growth areas" — the others being hydrogen, electronics and applied materials — where Praxair sees growth and is willing to fund projects, the source said. HME

When it comes to growing their HME and home respiratory therapy business through acquisition, the industrial gas giants appear to move slow, at least compared to Lincare and Apria.

"These are gas guys," said one industry watcher. "Their MO is to make a big transaction and wait. Analyze it. Think about it. Have a meeting. It appears they are looking at mega-transactions, and if that is the case, they can move slow but get a lot of market share."

On the other hand, if they expect to become a leader in the U.S. market by going slow and populating their acquisitions with $3 million dollar deals, "it ain't happening," the source said. HME

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