Helped by double digit growth in Columbia brand outerwear in the US and Canada, outdoor apparel and footwear maker Columbia Sportswear Company has posted a 4% rise in third quarter profit and says it plans to expand its US retail outlet stores. 

Net income for the quarter to 30 September was $62.6m, up from $60.3m in the same period last year, with earnings per share rising to $1.72 from $1.67.

Net sales for the Portland, Oregon-based company climbed 4% to $471.1m from $454.1m last time.

International sales were up 28% to $73.8 million, US sales increased 3% to $284.2m, and Canada sales rose 8% to $57.8m.

Poor outerwear and sportswear demand in Europe, however, pushed sales here down 17% to $55.3m.

By brand, Columbia sales increased 7%, Mountain Hardwear sales rose 14%, Sorel sales fell 9%, Montrail sales dropped 28% and Pacific Trail tumbled 87%.

Tim Boyle, Columbia's president and CEO, said: "Despite difficult economic conditions, particularly in the United States, we continue to expect operating margin expansion this year, demonstrating consistent financial management discipline."

The company said it was disappointed with its spring order backlog, which is flat at $414.4m, with better orders from the Asia Direct and International Distributor markets offsetting lower demand in the US and Europe.

Boyle said: "Cool and wet weather conditions in the United States this spring hampered sell through of our spring products, leading to significant order cancellations this year and reducing demand for spring 2008 orders in the US."

To reduce its exposure to excessive inventory due to negative weather conditions the company said it would expand its US retail initiative "to strengthen wholesale distribution, primarily focused on inventory management through retail outlet stores."

The retail move will include first-line Columbia brand retail stores.

Five new US retail outlets are planned this year, and up to 15 outlet stores are set to be opened each year over the next few years.

Columbia expects 2007 net sales growth of around 5% and estimates 2007 earnings per share of approximately $3.70.