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A reminder that our discussion today will focus on adjusted earnings for all income statement and EPS references under the heading entitled Glossary of Financial Terms on our website available at fmc.com, you will find the definition of adjusted earnings and certain other non-GAAP financial terms that we may refer to during today's conference call. Also, on our website, we posted our current 2012 outlook statement, which provides our guidance for the full year and second quarter 2012, as well as a reconciliation to GAAP of the non-GAAP figures we will use today.And finally, share and per share financial data discussed today do not reflect the 2-for-1 stock split of FMC's common stock that is payable on May 24, 2012, to stockholders of record of its common stock as of the close of business on May 11, 2012. 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, our first quarter results provided a very strong start to what we expect will be another record year for FMC. Summarizing our first quarter 2012 performance. Sales of $951 million increased 18% above last year's first quarter, and adjusted earnings of $1.94 per diluted share grew 30% versus a year-ago quarter. Agricultural Products delivered a robust performance in the quarter. Sales of $454 million increased 32%, driven by broad-based growth across Latin America, North America and Asia. Segment earnings of $130 million increased 29% versus the year-ago quarter, driven by the sales gain, partially offset by higher spending on several growth initiatives. In Specialty Chemicals, the performance met our expectations. Sales of $216 million were up 3% as higher selling prices were achieved in all businesses, particularly in food, pharmaceuticals and lithium primary markets. Partially offsetting these pricing gains were lower volumes related to downtimes associated with capacity expansions and plant tie-ins at our Argentina lithium facility, and to a lesser degree, at BioPolymer's alginates facility in Norway. Segment earnings of $44 million were down 1% as the sales gain were more than offset by higher weather-related operating costs in lithium, plant downtime effects, higher raw material costs and increased spending on targeted growth initiatives in BioPolymer.
In Industrial Chemicals, sales of $273 million increased 12%, driven by higher selling prices, especially in soda ash, and volume growth in soda ash and specialty peroxygens. Segment earnings of $48.1 million increased 19% as the result of the sales gains, favorable export mix in soda ash and the continued mix shift in peroxygens towards specialties markets.Taking a look at total company sales on a regional basis in the first quarter. Sales in Latin America demonstrated the highest growth rate, up 38%, driven by Agricultural Products as a result of the strong finish through the crop season in Brazil and sales from a new market access joint venture in Argentina. We also increased soda ash exports to the region and realized healthy sales growth in BioPolymer. Sales growth in North America was strong, about [ph] 14%. Sales in Agricultural Products benefited from healthy demand for pre-emergent herbicide, new product introduction and the shift of some sales from the second quarter due to an early start of the 2012 season. Industrial Chemicals benefited from higher selling prices across all businesses in the region. Sales in Asia were also up 14% in the quarter. Drivers of this growth were broad-based, with gains in Agricultural Products, soda ash exports and in food and pharmaceuticals businesses in BioPolymer. Sales in EMEA were up 8% as greater penetration in peroxygens market, sales gains in BioPolymer's pharmaceuticals business and higher sales of herbicide and fungicide in Agricultural Products all contributed to the increase. As you know, we are focusing on increasing our presence in the rapidly developing economies of the world, RDEs, as we refer to them internally. Looking at sales growth in these economies by region shows good progress being made. Sales in Latin America grew 38%; sales in Asian RDEs grew 13%; sales in Middle East & Africa grew 14%; and sales in Central and Eastern Europe and Turkey grew more modestly at 5%, mainly due to timing effects in the quarter. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com