Sales of Construction Products in emerging regions, which represented 37.0 percent of sales, increased 20.3 percent compared with the prior-year quarter due to strong sales in Latin America, the Middle East and emerging Asia. Sales in North America, which represented 38.6 percent of sales, decreased 4.1 percent due to lower sales of specialty building materials, primarily residential reroofing products. Sales of specialty construction chemicals in North America increased approximately 9 percent. Sales in Western Europe, which represented 13.6 percent of sales, decreased 17.6 percent compared with the prior-year quarter due to unfavorable currency translation and the continuing weak construction environment.
Segment gross margin of 36.1 percent increased 340 basis points compared with the prior-year quarter primarily due to improved raw material cost recovery, operating leverage and a favorable sales mix comparison between the acquired and divested businesses.
Segment operating income of $32.5 million increased 53.3 percent compared with the prior-year quarter primarily due to improved gross margin. Segment operating margin improved to 12.5 percent, an increase of 410 basis points compared with the prior-year quarter.
Other ExpensesTotal corporate expenses of $23.4 million decreased 13.3 percent compared with the prior-year quarter, due to cost reduction initiatives in 2012 and legal and licensing costs in the prior-year quarter. Defined benefit pension expense for the fourth quarter was $18.0 million compared with $15.9 million for the prior-year quarter. The 13.2 percent increase primarily was due to year-over-year changes in actuarial assumptions including lower discount rates and a lower expected long-term rate of return on plan assets. Interest expense was $12.4 million for the fourth quarter compared with $10.8 million for the prior-year quarter. The annualized weighted average interest rate on pre-petition obligations for the fourth quarter was 3.6 percent. Income Taxes Grace recorded a tax benefit of $139.3 million in the fourth quarter, reflecting a $135.3 million tax benefit from the $365.0 million asbestos-related charge and a $44.0 million tax benefit resulting from the release of valuation allowances on state deferred tax assets.