Athletic apparel maker Russell Corporation on Thursday reported a third quarter net income of $23.4 million against last year's net loss of $15.4 million, helped by higher sales and cost savings from more efficient manufacturing and lower cost sourcing.

Sales for the 2002 third quarter were up 10 per cent to $387.0 million, compared to last year's $351.3 million. The company, whose brands include Russell Athletic, Jerzees and Discus, said this increase was primarily driven by new and expanded fall programmes such as a national expansion of men's and boys' fleece at JCPenney and a national men's fleece program at Sam's Club.

For the nine months ended 29 September 2002, sales were up $9.7 million to $855.9 million, a 1 per cent increase over the prior year. For the first nine months net income was $19.8 million versus a net loss of $24.7 million in the comparable period last year.

For the 2002 fiscal year, the company projects sales to be in the range of $1.180 billion to $1.190 billion as compared to $1.160 billion in 2001.

Jack Ward, chairman and chief executive officer, said: "For the 2002 fourth quarter, we are forecasting sales to be up 3-6 per cent due to the strength of our new fall programmes. "We anticipate that our fourth quarter earnings will be in the range of $0.42 to $0.46 per share."

"As we look ahead to next year, we are approaching our business with conservatism given the current economic environment and the uncertainty in consumer spending," he added. "For the 2003 fiscal year, we are preliminarily forecasting sales to be in the range of $1.210 to $1.230 billion, EBITDA to be in the range of $160 to $180 million and earnings of $1.60 to $1.80 per share."