VF Corporation, the world's largest jeans maker, on Thursday said third-quarter profit rose 24 per cent and is targeting an 8 per cent growth in its annual business.

The Greensboro, North Carolina-based company, whose products include Lee and Wrangler jeans, also said improvements to its global supply chain could generate savings of $100 million over the next five years.

Quarterly profit increased to $1.55m from $125.3m, with a 21 per cent jump in earnings per share to $1.38 from $1.14.

Third quarter sales rose 25 per cent to $1.79 billion from $1.43 billion, boosted by the recent acquisitions of the Vans, Napapijri and Kipling brands.

For the first nine months of 2004, sales were up 18 per cent to $4.49 billion from $3.82 billion.

Nine month net income rose 20 per cent to $349.4 million from $292.3 million, with earnings per share rising 17 per cent to $3.11 from $2.65. The include a net $7.6 million ($.04 per share) charge related to disposition of its Playwear business.

Mackey J McDonald, chairman and chief executive officer, said: "Our position has never been stronger. Our core businesses are in great shape - most are growing, and they are highly profitable and generating healthy levels of cash flow."

Combined sales of VF's Outdoor businesses, which include The North Face, Vans, JanSport, and Kipling brands, jumped 116 per cent in the quarter to $457 million from $212 million. Sales of The North Face brand soared 44 per cent.

Total Jeanswear sales, which include the Lee, Wrangler, Riders and Rustler brands, were $710 million, down slightly from $716 million in last year's third quarter. Domestic jeans sales slipped while international jeans sales rose slightly the company said.

Sales of its Sportswear businesses, which include the Nautica, Earl Jean and John Varvatos brands, were $167 million in the quarter. In last year's third quarter these brands were only partially included.

Global Intimate sales rose 12 per cent to $235 million from $210 million last year.

Imagewear was up 5 per cent to $192 million from $183 million last year, with occupational apparel sales rising 3 per cent to $107 million from $104 million in 2003.

VF said it expects a record year in sales and earnings in 2004. Full year sales are likely to increase 15 per cent, approaching the $6 billion mark for the year. Earnings per share are expected to rise approximately 12 per cent over prior year levels.