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African Oxygen Limited - Press Release

Release Date: 30/10/2003 15:06:00      Code(s): AFX
AFRICAN OXYGEN LIMITED - PRESS RELEASE                                          
AFRICAN OXYGEN LIMITED                                                          
(Incorporated in the Republic of South Africa)                                  
(Registration number 1927/000089/06)                                            
ISIN Code: ZAE000030920                                                         
South African Share Code: AFX                                                   
Namibian Share Code: AOX                                                        
("Afrox" or "the Company")                                                      
PRESS RELEASE - AFROX POSTS BOTTOM LINE PROFIT INCREASE OF 42 PERCENT           
PROFIT BOOST LED BY INDUSTRIAL                                                  
African Oxygen Limited (Afrox) once again produced excellent results for the    
year ended September 2003, recording a net profit increase of 42 percent and    
increasing net cash inflows from operating activities by 34 percent.  This was  
led by the industrial business, which grew its share of net profits by 61       
percent.                                                                        
Afrox"s chief executive, Rick Hogben, says,  "The results demonstrate our       
ability to manage our assets and improve competencies within the business.  Our 
marketing and efficiency enhancing initiatives over the past two years have been
successful, particularly in our industrial business, which contributed 62       
percent of the net profit for the year.  This excellent growth occurred in spite
of the stronger rand, which had the effect of reducing foreign currency receipts
from our global export sales and earnings in Africa.  The negative impact on    
earnings amounted to R40 million.                                               
Hogben says the economy and the manufacturing sector were stronger in the first 
six months of the financial year and sales reflected this with a 17 percent     
increase.  In the second six months, however, the manufacturing sector declined,
and Afrox posted a full year 13 percent increase in revenue to reach R7,3       
billion (2002: R6,5 billion).                                                   
For the first time, Afrox"s operating profit exceeded R1 billion to reach R1,1  
billion (2002: R896 million), an increase of 22 percent.  As a result of sound  
asset management and, partly due to interest rate reductions in the second half 
of the financial year, net interest paid was down 22 percent to R122 million    
(2002: R157 million).  Earnings per share were up 38 percent at 165 cents (2002:
120 cents).                                                                     
These sound results enabled the board of directors to declare an increased      
dividend of 83 cents per share (2002: 62,5 cents per share).  This dividend is  
covered two times by earnings.                                                  
A regular feature of Afrox"s results is its strong balance sheet.  This year is 
no exception reflecting the company"s ability to focus on quality working       
capital management.  Cash generated from operations increased 24 percent to     
R1,4 billion assisted by stringent management of debtors days, which were       
reduced from 53 to 44 days in the industrial business.                          
In spite of a robust capital expenditure and acquisitions programme of          
R552 million (2002: R497 million), borrowings reduced by R248 million and       
gearing was down to a record low of 13 percent (2002: 21 percent).              
Hogben says, "In the past two years we have developed new markets, extended our 
global customer base, and added to our product and service offerings to existing
and new customers.  We have optimised our human capital, technology, and        
production facilities to increase our productivity and global competitiveness.  
This has helped further to improve Afrox"s resilience in most economic cycles." 
All businesses, Industrial and Special Products (ISP), Process Gas Solutions    
(PGS), and Healthcare performed well.                                           
The drive to improve brand awareness, marketing focus, and to become more       
customer and service centered, has been rewarded.  ISP and PGS posted strong    
results in spite of a downturn in the manufacturing sector over the past six    
months.                                                                         
ISP successfully retained its margins and increased market penetration.         
Handigas recorded another excellent performance reflecting skillful management  
of fluctuations in the oil price and the rand/dollar exchange rate during the   
year.                                                                           
In its first full year of trading, the Afrox manufactured AfroxPac 35 self-     
contained self-rescuers for underground miners obtained substantial local and   
export orders, making a strong contribution to profits.                         
A vigorous campaign to market Afrox-designed and manufactured gas and welding   
equipment continues to be successful.  Afrox"s parent company, The BOC Group,   
provides access to global markets through its world-wide infrastructure.        
Although the rand"s strength has affected this export drive, growth has been    
stimulated by forays into new markets in tandem with BOC.                       
"We are excited by new applications and growth opportunities in special gases   
and packaged chemicals," says Hogben.  "In addition, by creating a separate     
division for medical gases we have broadened our product offering and           
concentrated on the clinical management of medical products."                   
Hogben stresses that Afrox is constantly developing commercial offers that are  
tailor- made for different customer segments.  He cited retail sales as one     
example.  "We reassessed the location, image and product range of our retail    
outlets focusing on our calling customers" needs.  Since refurbishing our sales 
centres, enhancing our retail competency, and adding our safety products and    
personal protective clothing range, sales in this sector have improved          
significantly."                                                                 
PGS"s performance was enhanced by its application of sophisticated technology to
produce and improve new and existing processes.  Firm pricing trends and        
initiatives to increase operating efficiencies added to earnings, and ensured   
that PGS exceeded its targets for the year with increases in revenue of 10      
percent and operating profit of 14 percent.                                     
Referring to shortages in the supply of carbon dioxide as a result of the Petro 
SA shutdown, Hogben said that forward planning and product forecasting had      
ensured that Afrox customers received an uninterrupted supply.  It was the only 
gas company to achieve this.                                                    
Afrox Healthcare"s contribution to revenues and profits were derived from strong
organic growth, increased activity, and benefits accruing from the full         
integration of last year"s acquisitions.                                        
Michael Flemming, Afrox Healthcare"s managing director says he is pleased with  
the results.  "We continue to grow revenues and operating profits and the       
segmental results show Healthcare to be 28 percent up in operating profit of    
R550,5 million and 15 percent up in revenue at R4,5 billion."                   
"Growth of Healthcare has been recognised by the Financial Mail, where Afrox    
Healthcare Limited, as a stand-alone company, was nominated as the 13th best    
performing company on the JSE Securities Exchange, based on a compound annual   
growth rate over five years."                                                   
In July, a joint cautionary announcement was made by Afrox and Afrox Healthcare,
which stated that, `Afrox is in the process of considering its strategic options
with regard to its shareholding in Afrox Healthcare Limited.  These discussions 
may or may not lead to a change in Afrox"s shareholding."                       
Hogben said, "As this process has not been finalised, we are unable to make     
further statements but we expect some conclusion in the near future.  When this 
occurs, a full communications exercise will inform stakeholders."               
Ends                                                                            
Issued by African Oxygen Limited                                                
For further information contact:                                                
Chris Fieldgate                                                                 
011 490 0554 or 082 495 1481                                                    
or                                                                              
Ros Beart                                                                       
011 490 0712 or 082 891 5149                                                    
Date: 30/10/2003 03:06:05 PM Supplied by www.sharenet.co.za                     
Produced by the JSE SENS Department                                             
                                                                                
                                                                                
                                                                                



                                        
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