Joining me on the call today from PPG are Chuck Bunch, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer; and Dave Navikas, Senior Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer.Our comments relate to the financial information released on Thursday, April 19, 2012. As a reminder, based on our modified quarterly earnings call process, approximately 1 hour ago, we posted detailed commentary and accompanying presentation slides on our Investor Center at ppg.com. The slides are also available on the webcast site for this call. We do not read those prepared remarks during this call. During the call, Chuck will share his perspectives on the company's results for the quarter, and then we will move directly to Q&A. Both the prepared commentary and discussion during this call may contain forward-looking statements, reflecting the company's current view about future events and their potential effect on PPG's operating and financial performance. These statements involve uncertainties and risks, which may cause actual results to differ. The company is under no obligation to provide subsequent updates to these forward-looking statements. This presentation also contains certain non-GAAP financial measures. The company has provided in the appendix of the presentation materials, which are available on our website, reconciliations of these non-GAAP financial measures to the most directly comparable GAAP financial measures. For additional information, please refer to PPG's filings with the SEC. And now let me introduce PPG's Chairman and CEO, Chuck Bunch. Charles E. Bunch Thank you, Vince, and welcome, everyone. PPG continued our earnings growth momentum during the first quarter, posting record adjusted earnings of $1.81 per share. This marks the seventh consecutive quarterly record for the company. This 30% increase in our earnings was driven by strengthening sales in the combined Coatings and Optical and Specialty Materials segments, with earnings growth in these segments averaging about 25% versus the prior year. In addition, the Commodity Chemicals segment matched its excellent 2011 performance.
Excluding acquisition and currency impacts, Coatings and Optical sales improved by more than $200 million versus the prior year's first quarter. The primary region of improvement was the United States, where all of our Coatings businesses delivered higher volumes. Growth continued in the emerging regions, but was at lower rates and with less consistency throughout the quarter than in the recent past. European activity levels were weaker in most end-use markets.Our improved sales also reflected higher selling prices in each Coatings business as we continued efforts to recover inflation absorbed during 2011 and additional, more modest inflation in the first quarter. Our strong focus on cost management also continued during the quarter. And operating margins in all segments, except Glass, improved versus the prior year, aided by our sales performance and our continued operational discipline. Lastly, we purchased 1 million shares of stock during the quarter and ended the quarter with about $1 billion of cash, well above our historical first quarter cash balance. In summary, our record results in the quarter and excellent performance over the past 2 years reflect the benefits from our broad and global business portfolio and effective deployment of cash. Looking ahead, we have further growth opportunities as demand in some of our larger end-use markets such as Automotive OEM and Architectural Coatings continues to recover. The second quarter is typically our best quarter seasonally, and we expect year-over-year growth in the United States to be similar with the first quarter, coupled with lower regional natural gas input costs. We anticipate that growth in emerging regions will accelerate, supported by higher Chinese industrial activity. We expect European demand to remain muted. However, we remain proactive in dealing with these mixed market conditions and are implementing restructuring actions focused mainly in Europe with anticipated cost savings of $0.20 to $0.25 per share in the second half of this year and larger cost savings in 2013.
Finally, we already have a strong cash position. And based on the seasonality of our businesses, our strongest cash generation quarters are later in the year. We expect to continue to deploy cash throughout the year with earnings accretion remaining the focus.Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com