What happened

Climbing 11% last month, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, shares of Air Products and Chemicals (NYSE:APD), a provider of industrial gases, bounced back from their 4% slide in October. In addition to a strong fourth-quarter earnings report, investors responded to management's auspicious outlook for 2020 and a positive nod from Wall Street. 

So what

Although Air Products reported a year-over-year 1% decrease in revenue for Q4 2019 primarily as a result of lower energy-cost pass-through, the company credited higher pricing and volumes as contributing factors to its notable bottom-line growth, as the company reported GAAP net income of $519 million -- a 13% year-over-year increase. Similarly, investors celebrated the company's performance regarding the full year. While growth on the top line was essentially flat, Air Products reported a 310-basis-point expansion in its GAAP net income margin for 2019 compared to 2018, helping the company achieve an 18% increase in GAAP net income from 2018 to 2019.

With a smartphone to his ear, an investor points to one of several financial charts on a computer screen.

Image source: Getty Images.

Forecasting continued growth in 2020, management issued 2020 full-year adjusted earnings per share guidance of $9.35 to $9.60. Should the company report at the midpoint of this range, it will represent an increase of more than 15% over the adjusted EPS of $8.21 that the company reported for 2019.

Besides investors on Main Street, those on Wall Street also took notice of Air Products in November. For example, an analyst at Deutsche Bank reiterated his buy rating on the stock and raised his price target to $260 from $250 following the company's fourth-quarter earnings report, according to Thefly.com. In addition, an analyst at Atlantic Equities initiated coverage on the stock with a "neutral" rating and a $250 price target, which represented about 4% of upside, as the stock was trading hands at about $240 per share on the day of the analyst's report.

Now what

While Air Products struggled to growth its top line, investors should be far from disheartened, as the company demonstrated its ability to expand its net income margin and grow profits. For dividend-minded investors, the company's optimistic outlook for next year suggests that 2020 may very well be a year in which Air Products celebrates its 38th consecutive year of dividend increases and maintains its position as a Dividend Aristocrat.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.