Consumer goods giant Sara Lee Corp on Thursday posted a 16 per cent year-on-year slide in fourth quarter profit as it was hurt by falling by falling sales at its intimates and underwear operations in a tough retail environment.

The Chicago-based company posted a net profit of $296 million, or 37 cents a share, for the 13 week period ended June 28, compared to a profit of $351m, or 43 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Sales climbed three per cent year-on-year to $4.6 billion as it was boosted by the falling US dollar against other currencies.

For the full year, sales climbed four per cent to $18.3bn and earnings per share rose to $1.50 from $1.23 in the year-ago period.

Quarterly sales at its intimates and underwear unit, which include Playtex, Hanes, Dim, Bali, barelythere and Unno, fell five per cent with unit volumes down nine per cent amid weak global markets and reduced legwear and underwear inventory levels at key retailers.

Global knit product unit volumes fell six per cent, combining a seven per cent decline for underwear and a five per cent decline for activewear. In the US, underwear volumes fell seven per cent.

Worldwide unit volumes for legwear fell 16 per cent during the quarter, combining a 21 per cent slide for sheer hosiery with a 10 per cent decline for sock unit sales.

"In a difficult operating environment, Sara Lee continued to invest behind its key brands and improve its productivity and cash flow," said C Steven McMillan, chairman, president and CEO.

"For the fiscal year, sales, helped by currency, grew at the high end of the company's target, while operating income and EPS posted double-digit gains.

"Our operating cash flow was the second highest in the company's history, and this strong cash generation is expected to improve further next year, offering increased opportunity to return value to our shareholders."

Sara Lee added it sees a first quarter profit of 23 to 28 cents, versus 38 cents a year ago, with full year earnings seen at $1.51 to $1.61 a share, versus $1.50 last year.