Cleveland-based Lincoln Electric Holdings this week reported first-quarter 2012 net income of $64.2 million, or $0.76 per diluted share, compared with net income of $46.9 million, or $0.55 per diluted share, in the first quarter 2011. Sales were $727.1 million in the first quarter 2012 versus $599.2 million in the comparable 2011 period, an increase of 21.4 percent. Operating income for the first quarter increased $32.2 million to $91.7 million, or 12.6 percent of sales, from $59.5 million, or 9.9 percent of sales, in the comparable 2011 period.

“Sales levels for the quarter were a record and overall profitability and operating cash flows improved significantly,” said John Stropki, chairman and CEO. “Our strong operating performance in the quarter was the result of improved product mix, better pricing dynamics in all of our business segments and the positive impact from recent acquisitions. The continued strength in both sales and profitability during the quarter were particularly positive considering the ongoing economic challenges in many of our key markets.

Net cash provided by operating activities increased $62.5 million to $79.2 million in the first quarter from $16.7 million for the comparable period in 2011. During the quarter, the company repaid its $80.0 million senior unsecured note. The company also returned $34.3 million to shareholders through the payment of $14.2 million in dividends and the repurchase of $20.1 million, or 432,384 of the company’s shares, for treasury during the three months ended March 31.

“We are seeing robust year-over-year sales growth with particular strength in equipment and automation,” said Stropki. “We remain focused on our global growth strategies, which include acquisitions, new product introductions and increasing our commercial presence worldwide. In addition, our ongoing attention to continuous improvements in our operations will provide the increased operating leverage and flexibility required to execute our long-term strategic objectives."

Lincoln Electric designs, develops and manufactures arc welding products, robotic arc welding systems, plasma and oxyfuel cutting equipment and has a leading global position in the brazing and soldering alloys market.