Leading youth-oriented fashion chain Aeropostale Inc on Thursday reported a sharp rise in fourth quarter net profit as it was helped by higher sales at new stores and improved control of inventories.

The New York-based operator of nearly 370 stores posted a 27 per cent jump in net profit to $17.7 million, or 46 cents per share, from $13.9m, or 38 cents per share, in the year-ago period.

Net sales soared 31 per cent year-on-year to $206.4m while same-store sales edged up 0.3 per cent.

For the full year, net income jumped to $31.1m from $26.5m in 2001 while net sales grew 36.2 per cent to $550.9m from $404.4m. Same-store sales for the year rose 6.6 per cent.

Aeropostale, which plans to open 85 new stores this year, also reaffirmed its full year earnings outlook of $1.06 and $1.10 per share on sales in a range of $670m to $674m.

Chairman and CEO, Julian Geiger, commented: "Despite the very challenging retail environment during the fourth quarter, we were pleased that we were able to generate better than anticipated earnings while returning inventory to an appropriate level. This reconfirms the highly flexible and effective nature of our operating model.

"The performance of our new stores in fiscal 2002 have again exceeded our expectations. While we understand that the retail environment continues to be challenging, our business model is sound and we remain confident that we can expand our store base to 900 stores nationwide."