Athletic apparel maker Russell Corporation on Thursday reported a 45 per cent increase in third quarter profit driven by sales gains in its Activewear, Athletic and International divisions.

The Atlanta-based firm said quarterly earnings were $26.9 million, or $.82 per diluted share, versus $18.5 million, or $.56 per diluted share for the same period of 2003.

Sales were $422.7 million, an increase of 8.9 per cent over the same period a year ago. This figure reflects a 3.7 per cent increase in ongoing business in addition to approximately $20.4 million in incremental sales from acquisitions owned for less than a year the company said.

Russell expects sales for fiscal 2004 will fall in the range of $1.30-$1.33 billion, a 9-12 per cent increase over the $1.186 billion recorded in 2003.

It also expects to report fiscal 2004 earnings of $1.45 to $1.55 on a fully diluted per share basis.

The company said the construction of its Merendon textile facility in Honduras is on schedule for a first quarter 2005 start-up, with full capacity expected to be achieved in the first half of 2006.