Footwear retailer Brown Shoe Company has returned to profit during the fourth quarter, helped by higher sales and a restructuring of its business.

The group said net earnings reached US$4m during the quarter, compared to a loss of $8.2m the same period last year. "Portfolio realignment" costs were $2.9m, versus $18.5m a year earlier when the company revealed it was exiting all of its children's wholesale and some women's specialty and private brands.

Sales rose 1.8% to $640.2m, up from $628.9m last time. Excluding the company's exited brands, year-on-year net sales were up 4.8% in the quarter. Gross profit margin improved to 39.3% from 37.9% last year.

Famous Footwear recorded a 7.9% increase in sales to $380.1m with good growth in athletic shoes, boat shoes and women's boots, while same-store sales rose 4.4%.

The contemporary fashion business saw wholesale sales increase slightly in the quarter, driven by the Sam Edelman and Franco Sarto brands. The Healthy Living unit posted a 1.8% rise in wholesale sales.

Excluding exited brands, wholesale operations sales were up 1.6% year-over-year.

During the full year, net earnings reached $27.5m, up 11.8% on last year's $24.6m. Net sales edged up 0.6% to $2.6bn from $2.58bn the year before.

"In 2012, we hit several milestones at Famous Footwear, by achieving record-breaking sales for the 52-week year, as well as our highest annual operating profit," said president and chief executive officer Diane Sullivan.

"We also strengthened our balance sheet, by reducing short term borrowings by nearly $100m and reduced our SG&A expenses by $18.3m."