ASIDE from oxygen-quaffing mountaineers and scuba divers, few consumers give a thought to the normally stable world of making industrial gases. Yet the sector, essential for much other manufacturing, is now gripped by discussion of mega-mergers as big firms on either side of the Atlantic jostle for advantage.

This week brought renewed talk of a long-expected tie-up. Analysts have speculated for a while about a possible family reunion between Linde, a German firm with a market value of $30 billion, and Praxair, an American rival of similar value that is more profitable. Praxair originally sprang from its European parent over a century ago. The talks are at an early stage. A union would produce the leader in industrial gases, with a market share of about 40%.

It would suit the companies, less so consumers. Praxair does well selling gases for industrial use, chiefly in America. The food industry needs carbon dioxide, in fizzy drinks or to get caffeine from coffee, for example. Linde, in contrast, has expertise in the long-term growth area of gases for medical use. Supplying oxygen to hospitals is expected to be profitable as ageing...Continue reading