Leading knitwear manufacturer and marketer Delta Apparel Inc on Thursday reported record sales of $131.6 million for fiscal 2002 but said its net earnings fell to $6.5m from $10m in the year-ago period.

The company, which specialises in undecorated T-shirts, golf shirts and tank tops and employs more than 3,100 people, said in a statement it repurchased $9.1 million of its stock and funded $5.3 million in capital expenditures during the year.

Those capital costs include a new textile plant in Fayette, Alabama, which will allow it to boost output by up to 25 per cent.

For the fourth quarter, Delta posted sales of $43.4m up 22.5 per cent from the year-ago period, with higher sales the result of a 29.8 per cent jump in unit volume, offset by a 5.6 per cent fall in average selling prices from 2001.

President and CEO, Robert Humphreys, said: "We are excited by the record sales for the 2002 fiscal year, especially considering the challenging retail conditions during the year. Our unit volume increased by 16.8 per cent from the prior year, although a shift in our sales mix and some price deterioration drove our average selling prices lower than in the previous year.

"Our West Coast sales centre has exceeded expectations, enabling us to expand our customer base, helping to drive the increase in sales, despite a difficult first two quarters. We are pleased with the progress of the start up of our new textile facility located in Fayette and are on track to attain the expected 25 per cent increase in company output."

He added: "This production will allow us to service the new accounts we are adding to our customer base and allow us to expand our product offerings to existing customers. During the upcoming year, we plan to add an additional distribution centre in the southeast to expand our 48 hour delivery capability to a new group of customers."