Industrial gas supplier Airgas Inc , which is fending off a hostile takeover by rival Air Products and Chemicals Inc , posted a higher-than-expected quarterly profit on Friday and boosted its dividend.

Net income for the fiscal third quarter ended December 31 rose to $55.8 million, or 65 cents per share, compared with $46.9 million, or 56 cents per share, in the year-earlier period.

Excluding one-time items, mostly involving costs related to its defense against Air Products, the company earned 80 cents per share. By that measure, analysts had expected earnings of 79 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Growth is now accelerating in our core business on strength in our manufacturing, utilities and petrochemical customer segments, as well as in repair and maintenance activity, particularly at our larger customers, Airgas Chief Executive and founder Peter McCausland said in a statement.

Sales rose 9.5 percent to $1.03 billion, matching analysts' expectations.

Airgas, based in Radnor, Pennsylvania, also boosted its quarterly dividend to 29 cents from 25 cents. The dividend is payable on March 31 to shareholders of record as of March 15.

Shares of Airgas rose 0.7 percent to $63.98 in premarket trading. The stock has traded between $41.82 and $71.28 in the past 52 weeks.

Air Products also posted better-than-expected earnings on Friday.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder, editing by Gerald E. McCormick, editing by Dave Zimmerman)