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A reminder that our discussion today will include statements that are forward-looking and subject to various risks and uncertainties concerning specific factors summarized in FMC's 2010 Form 10-K, our most recent Form 10-Q and other SEC filings. This information represents our best judgment based on today's information. Actual results may vary based on these risks and uncertainties.Our current 2011 outlook statement, which provides our guidance for both the full year and the fourth quarter of 2011, was posted this morning on our website available at fmc.com. Also on our website, you will find the definition of certain non-GAAP financial terms that we'll refer to during today's conference call under the heading entitled, Glossary of Financial Terms, as well as a reconciliation to GAAP of those non-GAAP figures we will use today. It's now my pleasure to turn the call over to Pierre Brondeau. Pierre? Pierre R. Brondeau Thank you, Brennen, and good morning, everyone. As you saw in our earnings release, we delivered another quarter of strong performance. We saw healthy demand across our businesses and diverse end markets, especially in rapidly developing economies. We see rich opportunities for organic growth and made good progress advancing our external growth initiatives. Consistent with our Vision 2015 objectives, we are making focused investments that will raise our growth trajectory. In Agricultural Products, we established a joint venture in Argentina, Ruralco Soluciones, to directly access the country's large and growing agrochemical market. We also formed collaborations with Chr. Hansen and Marrone Bio Innovations in agricultural biologicals. In BioPolymer, we announced an agreement to acquire BioGroup, the leading natural colors and specialty nutrition ingredients producer to broaden our portfolio in food ingredients and pharmaceuticals. In Peroxygens, we completed the purchase of the persulfates business of RheinPerChemie to accelerate our shift to high-margin specialties. In soda ash, we formed Natronx Technologies in partnership with Church & Dwight and TATA Chemicals to manufacture and market sodium-based dry sorbents for air pollution control in electric utility and industrial boiler operations.
In addition to these investments to support our organic growth opportunities and focused external initiatives, we repurchased $100 million of our stock in the third quarter. We look for a strong finish to 2011 with key performance metrics on or above trend line toward realizing our Vision 2015 objectives.Going forward, we see a promising pipeline of small to mid-sized companies to further advance our external growth initiatives. We also continue to evaluate attractive organic growth opportunities to selectively employ capital. We'll provide a more detailed view of this next quarter as we outline our 2012 capital plan. Moving to our performance in third quarter 2011. Sales of $862 million increased by $117 million or 16% versus last year, excluding the prior impact of exited businesses. Sales increased in all businesses and all regions. Adjusted earnings of $1.39 per diluted share increased 18% versus the year-ago quarter. Looking at sales on a regional basis, Latin America led sales growth, up 26%, followed closely by Asia, which was up 23%. Sales in EMEA increased 16%, and sales in North America were up 5%. Our gross margin of $287 million increased by $33 million, or 13%, versus last year. On a percent basis, our 33% gross margin equaled that of last year as higher selling prices offset increased costs. SG&A of $107 million increased $11 million, or 12%, due to increased spending on targeted growth initiatives in our Agricultural Products business and, to a lesser extent, foreign exchange. Adjusted earnings before interest and tax of $149 million increased $16 million or 12% above last year. Let's take a more detailed look at the performance of our operating segments in the quarter. First, let me start with Specialty Chemicals. Third quarter revenue of $218 million increased 8% versus last year, driven by higher selling prices across the segment and volume growth in pharmaceutical excipients and lithium specialties. Segment earnings of $47.6 million were 1% higher than the prior quarter as the strong commercial performance was largely offset by higher raw material and energy costs and weather-related operating impact at our Argentina lithium facility incurred early in the quarter. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com