•  Q4 profit up 24% on year-earlier charge
  • Sales rose 1% to $358.3m
  • Looks forward to 2010 with “guarded optimism”

Higher demand in its US and international wholesale businesses has helped outdoor apparel and footwear maker Columbia Sportswear Company beat expectations with a 24% jump in fourth quarter profit.

“We exceeded our fourth quarter sales outlook thanks to greater re-orders and a return of a more cancel rate in our wholesale business after a difficult spring 2009,” Tim Boyle, Columbia’s president and chief executive officer, told analysts on a conference call.

He added: “The upswing in consumer and retailer demand in the fourth quarter coupled with the launch of what we believe is breakthrough technology in Omni Heat [a three-part suite of warmth technologies] gives us a sense of guarded optimism entering 2010.”

Net income climbed to $23.1m or $0.68 per share, from $18.6m or $0.55 per share a year ago. Last year’s results, however, included a $24.7m impairment charge.

Net sales for the three months to 31 December rose 1% to $358.3m, up from $354.9m in the same period last year. The results include a 3 percentage point gain from changes in foreign exchange rates.

Sales were boosted by growth in direct-to-consumer operations, which offset declines in the group’s US wholesale business.

Sales were up 5% in the US and rose 16% in the Latin America & Asia Pacific (LAAP) region, but dropped 23% in Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) and fell 12% in Canada.

Footwear sales in the quarter increased 19% to $70.9m while outerwear sales were flat at $171.5m. Sportswear sales fell 13%, the company said.

“Our renewed focus on product innovation driven by consumer insights is elevating each of our major brands and, together with our strong balance sheet, positions us well for growth as we enter the new decade,” Boyle said.?

For the year, net income fell 29.5% to $67.0m or $1.97 per share, down from $95.0m or $2.74 per share last time.

Annual sales at the company, whose brands include Sorel, Mountain Hardwear, Columbia and Pacific Trail, fell 6% to $1.24bn from $1.32bn in 2008.

Looking ahead, Columbia Sportswear expects first quarter sales to rise by 4% to 5%, with margins up 2 percentage points due to a smaller proportion of low-margin sales of excess autumn inventory.