Clothing firm Jones Apparel Group Inc on Wednesday reported a sharp rise in fourth quarter earnings as it was boosted by acquisitions and its diverse brand portfolio in a weak retail environment.

The New York-based company, whose brands include Jones New York, Gloria Vanderbilt and Nine West, posted a profit of $51.6 million, or 39 cents per share, versus $31.3m, or 25 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding items, earnings per share were 50 cents versus 36 cents a year ago. Revenue soared to $964m from $895m in 2001.

Full-year earnings per share increased to $2.36 from $1.82 with revenues climbing to $4.3 billion from $4.1bn in the year prior.

CEO Peter Boneparth commented: "Our diversified operating model allowed us to deliver strong operating results in an increasingly more challenging economic environment.

"Our acquisitions of Gloria Vanderbilt and lei contributed revenue of $111m for the fourth quarter and $258m for the full year 2002, and also contributed to our improvement in operating margin. Excluding these additions, revenues declined five per cent for the fourth quarter as planned and were even for the full year 2002 as compared to 2001."

He added: "Despite the challenging economic climate expected for most of 2003, we believe our strategy of continued diversification in distribution channels, product offerings and target consumers provides us the appropriate balance to deliver consistently strong results."