"Economic conditions continue to be very difficult. Unemployment continues to rise," Jacek Olczak, the company's chief financial officer, said in a conference call with investors.Still, Olczak expressed "confidence in the underlying strength of the business." Shipments also fell nearly 5 percent in Latin America and Canada. And in Asia, one of its largest growth areas, shipments grew less than 1 percent during the quarter on a tough comparison with the year-ago period, when shipments shot up in Japan following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The events offered the company a sales opportunity because supply disruptions led Japan Tobacco Inc., the world's No. 3 tobacco maker, to stop shipping cigarettes within Japan. Philip Morris International also bought Philippines company Fortune Tobacco Co. in February 2010, bolstering its Asian business. Philip Morris International said total Marlboro shipments fell 2.3 percent in the quarter to 77.1 billion cigarettes. The company said its market share increased or remained stable in many key areas. During the quarter, the company spent $1.5 billion to buy back 16.7 million shares of stock, completing a three-year, $12 billion buyback program that began in May 2010. A new, previously announced three-year share repurchase program of $18 billion began in August. Looking forward, Philip Morris narrowed its full-year earnings forecast to between $5.12 and $5.18 per share. Previously the company forecast $5.10 to $5.20 per share. Altria Group Inc. in Richmond, Va., the owner of Philip Morris USA, spun off Philip Morris International as a separate company in 2008. Altria is the largest U.S. cigarette seller. ___ Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.