Leading apparel manufacturer Kellwood Co on Friday posted a hefty 65 per cent plunge in first quarter net profit compared to the year-ago period amid a sharp fall in sales.

The St Louis-based firm said poor sales, particularly of its women's sportswear, was behind the steep fall in net income to $8.6 million from $25.1m in 2001. The figures include an $8.9m provision for business and facilities realignment.

Sales fell 19.6 per cent to $570.7m with sales of men's sportswear up nine per cent, but sales of women's sportswear down 25 per cent and soft goods sales 17 per cent lower. Kellwood's brands include Sag Harbor, Koret and Jax.

In a statement, the company said it expects full-year sales to fall nine per cent to $2.1 billion and net earnings in the range of $42m-$44m.

Hal Upbin, chairman, president, and chief executive, commented: "The drop in volume was anticipated last Fall when we placed orders with contractors for the Spring 2002 season.

"We entered the Spring shipping season in January with inventory down 28 per cent from last year, and we ended the April quarter with inventory 40 perc ent below last year.

"Until we are convinced that the consumer has returned to a more normal and consistent level of consumption, we have elected not to speculate and carry inventory without an order."