Fashion giant Liz Claiborne Inc on Thursday reported a healthy rise in third quarter net profit as quarterly sales hit record levels on the back of recent acquisitions.

The New York-based company said net profit for the latest quarter climbed to $98 million, or 89 cents per diluted share, from $83m, or 78 cents per share, in the same period of last year.

Net sales rose 12.8 per cent to $1.174 billion from 1.041bn in the year-ago period thanks to its recent purchases of brands such as Ellen Tracy, Mexx Canada and Juicy Couture.

Wholesale apparel sales rose 14.5 per cent to $814m from $711m last year while wholesale non-apparel sales climbed 1.3 per cent to $148m from $146m.

It added retail net sales rose 14.9 per cent to $205m from $178m while same-store sales edged up 0.6 per cent at its outlet business, which has 263 stores, but slipped 2.1 per cent at its specialty retail business.

Chairman and CEO, Paul Charron, said in a statement: "Despite the challenging environment, we were able to achieve higher than planned sales, enabling us to exceed our EPS expectation.

"Performance in the third quarter was driven primarily by the acquisitions of Ellen Tracy and Juicy Couture, growth in our Mexx business and new product initiatives in our Special Markets sector.

"Our Sigrid Olsen, Claiborne Men's, Dana Buchman, Jewelry and Fashion Accessories businesses also made solid contributions."

He added: "Looking forward, for the fourth quarter of 2003, we are optimistic that we can achieve a sales increase of four to six per cent and EPS in the range of 63 to 66 cents.

"For the full year 2003, we are adjusting our sales guidance from an increase of 11 to 13 per cent to an increase of 14 to 15 per cent and our EPS guidance from a range of $2.49 to $2.55 to a range of $2.52 to $2.55.

"For fiscal 2004 we will plan our business in accordance with the challenging and unsettled retail environment. Current visibility indicates that we forecast a sales increase of three to six per cent and EPS in the range of $2.65 to $2.72."