Shares of Airgas (NYSE: ARG) burst higher after the company reported its fourth-quarter earnings. It sees particular strength from some key strategic areas balancing against economic-based slowdowns in other markets. As a result, the company raised its forecasts for the upcoming first quarter and full year.

In the fourth quarter, Airgas' revenue grew 27% from the same period a year ago to $1.1 billion. Although acquisition contributed 19% of the growth, the remaining 8% same-store comparison was solid, given economic conditions. Earnings grew at an even faster clip, from $43.7 million to $64.2 million, or 47%. The company was also able to grow its operating margin 120 basis points to 12.1%.

Energy, infrastructure construction, and export markets were very strong for the company. Furthermore, although it made 18 acquisitons in the past year, Airgas feels it is "over the hump" in transitioning from an acquisitions-based company to an operations-based one.

Airgas's confidence in its most recent results are leading it to post EPS guidance in a range of $0.79 to $0.81 in the first quarter and $3.24 to $3.40 for the full year, with both ranges representing heady growth over last year.

Specialty gas giants Praxair (NYSE: PX) and Air Products & Chemicals (NYSE: APD) claim market capitalizations of about $29 billion and $20 billion respectively, outsizing Airgas at less than $5 billion. However, both competitors reported impressive growth similar to Airgas in the past quarter, indicating that, for the time being, there appears to be room for all players in the space.

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Fool contributor Steven Renaldi does not own shares of any companies mentioned. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is a gas.