Leading sportswear and footwear producer Reebok International Ltd on Thursday posted a big rise in third quarter net profit as it was boosted by strong apparel and footwear sales in the US.

The Massachusetts-based company said earnings in the quarter ended September 30 rose 19 per cent to $62.7 million, or 96 cents per share, compared with $53.4m, or 81 cents per share, in the same period of last year.

Net sales rose 14 per cent to $1.04 billion from $912m last year. On a constant dollar basis, third quarter sales increased 10 per cent year-on-year, while US apparel sales soared 31 per cent to $207.9m.

For the Reebok brand, worldwide sales in the 2003 third quarter increased 17 per cent to $898m from $768m last year with US sales for the brand up 22 per cent from 2002.

US footwear sales rose 16 per cent to $279m from $241m while international sales of Reebok branded products amounted to $411 million in the quarter, up 11 per cent from last year.

It added sales for its other brands; Rockport, Ralph Lauren Footwear and The Greg Norman Collection, were flat at $143m, with total worldwide backlog of open customer orders scheduled for delivery from October 2003 through March 2004 for the Reebok brand up 12 per cent.

Chairman and CEO, Paul Fireman, said: "I am very pleased with our financial and operating performance this quarter. We were able to generate strong sales, margin and earnings improvements despite the difficult retail conditions in many of our key markets around the world.

"The performance of the Reebok Brand during the all important back-to-school period this quarter was encouraging, especially in the critical US market.

"Outside the US we generated some positive momentum as well. European sales increased 13 per cent in the quarter and European backlog increased by 15 per cent. This improvement was led by strong performance from the UK, France, Spain and several of our Pan European retail accounts.

"This is particularly encouraging given the weak economic condition which existed in many European countries as well as the serious heat wave that affected Europe during July and August and negatively impacted retail sales.”

He concluded: "Retailer and consumer demand for our sports licensed products continues to be strong. Furthermore, several of the product extensions we introduced last year are beginning to gain consumer acceptance and our strategy to expand the reach of this business is working.

"And with the NFL season under way and the NBA season about to kick off we are well positioned to have another successful year."