Updated from 4:35 a.m. EDTNovartis ( NVS) said third-quarter earnings from continuing operations rose 32% to $2.1 billion and sales rose 12% to $10.7 billion as pharmaceuticals sales rose ahead of expectations and its U.S. business returned to growth. The Swiss drug maker also said Monday it plans to cut about 550 full-time positions in its U.S. sales force. The company will record a fourth-quarter charge of about $20 million. Novartis also reaffirmed expectations for a year of record net sales and earnings in 2008. Novartis also appointed Joerg Reinhardt as chief operating officer. He formerly served as head of vaccines and diagnostics.