PRAXAIR EMBARKS ON THE NEW CENTURY prepared to launch a new era in its own history. It was just after the turn of the 20th century when Praxair started up the first commercial oxygen plant in North America. Since then, the company has led the industry in a steady expansion of markets and technologies. Now, Praxair is reinventing itself to capture the benefits of global connectivity.

We are proceeding from strength. Total return on Praxair's stock during 1999 was 45%, compared to an average of 21% for the Standard and Poor's 500 Index. Just after year-end, the board declared our eighth consecutive dividend increase, and, for the seventh consecutive year, we have had record net income. After-tax return on invested capital, a key financial measure for Praxair, improved to 11.2%. Our target debt-to-capital ratio remains 50%, and we ended 1999 at 52%. While our earnings per share increase of 5% in 1999 was below our objective, it was achieved despite a 32% devaluation and a major recession in Brazil, our second-largest market.

I am particularly pleased to report significant improvement in our safety performance, continuing a steady reduction in personnel injuries over the past three years. Total injuries were down 17%, which means 94 fewer employees were hurt compared to the previous year. Furthermore, lost workday cases were down 42%, reflecting the success of our emphasis on avoiding unsafe behavior and sharing best practices across the company.