A combination of organic growth and the acquisition of Gerber Childrenswear helped apparel maker Kellwood Co swung to a fourth-quarter profit of $8.4 million, or 33 cents per share, compared with a loss of $3.1 million, or 14 cents per share, in the same quarter last year.

Sales for the fourth quarter ended 31 January 2003 increased 14 per cent to $537 million, versus $470 million last year according to the company's chairman, president and chief executive officer, Hal J Upbin. A 6 per cent rise in sales of men's sportswear and intimate apparel offset flat sales of women's sportswear.

For the full year, sales were $2.2 billion, down $77 million, or 3 per cent from $2.3 billion reported last year. Excluding the acquisition of Gerber Childrenswear on 25 June 2002, sales for the year were down $192 million, or 8 per cent, but ahead of plan the company said.

Sales of women's sportswear decreased $198 million, or 13 per cent, in a market that was down 8 per cent for the year on a weak dress market. Sales of men's sportswear were exceptionally strong, growing $82 million, or 24 per cent to $430 million. The acquisition of Gerber Hosiery contributed $35 million of sales growth, with organic growth of $47 million, or 14 per cent.

Full-year sales of other soft goods increased by $39 million, or 9 per cent, due to the acquisition of Gerber Children's Apparel. Sales of intimate apparel were down $19 million, or 9 per cent, and sales of recreation products were down $22 million, or 11 per cent, from last year.

Net earnings for the year were $42.0 million, or $1.69 per share, on a diluted basis versus $37.7 million, or $1.65 per share last year.

As part of the previously announced realignment of its sourcing and distribution infrastructure, Kellwood said action has already been taken to streamline its operating and warehousing and distribution infrastructure. To improve its sourcing competitiveness the company has closed its domestic and most of its western hemisphere sewing operations and has moved more of its sourcing to contractors in the Far East.

Looking ahead, the St Louis-based company said it expects fiscal 2003 sales to be about $2.6 billion, up $400 million from fiscal 2002. The company said net earnings for fiscal 2003 should rise by 45 percent to a range of $73 million to $76 million, or $2.70 to $2.80 a share.