Footwear retailer Payless ShoeSource Inc on Wednesday said third-quarter net earnings fell six per cent due to higher interest expenses on long-term debt added to fund a self-tender. Earnings per share, boosted by sharp year-to-year reduction in company shares outstanding, rose to meet analysts' forecasts.

The company also forecast a 23 per cent increase in diluted earnings per share in fiscal 2000, excluding one-time items. It said its goal for 2001 is to increase earnings per diluted share by 15 per cent and achieve same-store sales increases in the low single digits.

The company said net earnings for the third quarter, ended October 28, fell to $32.4m from a profit of $34.6m in the same quarter a year ago. Earnings per diluted share in the quarter, on a strength of a cut in common shares outstanding to 22.5 million from 31.1 million at the end of third quarter 1999, rose 30 per cent to $1.44 from $1.11 a year ago.

Wall Street analysts on average expected the retailer to earn $1.44 a share, according to research firm First Call/Thomson Financial, which tracks earnings data.

Company sales for the quarter climbed to $723m from $669.4m a year ago. Same-store sales, or sales at stores open more than a year, increased 4.1 per cent in the quarter.

(C) Reuters Limited 2000.