Playtex bra maker and apparel giant Sara Lee Corp said today it expects first quarter earnings to jump more than 30 per cent this year on the back of soaring sales of higher margin goods and reduced operating costs.

The company said in a statement favourable foreign currency exchange rates, lower interest expense and fewer shares outstanding also contributed to the above-expectation results.

Sara Lee sees first quarter earnings of at least 35 cents a share, up from 26 cents last year, and full-year earnings of $1.54 to $1.60, compared to $1.36 in fiscal 2002, a gain of 13 per cent to 18 per cent.

C Steven McMillan, chairman, president and CEO of Sara Lee Corp, stated: "We began 2003 with a pipeline full of innovative products, a strengthened investment program and a healthy balance sheet supported by superb cash flow.

"The strategy we began two years ago to invest in our key brands and take costs out of our manufacturing, distribution and administrative operations is working as demonstrated by our above-expectation first quarter results."

Sara Lee will announce its first quarter results on October 24.