NEW YORK -- Avon Products reported Thursday that profits edged up 2 percent in the fourth quarter. A continuation of strong operating results in the Far East and Latin America was offset by weakness in the U.S. and Europe.

Avon said profits from continuing operations for the year rose 4 percent, and it announced a buyback program for up to 10 percent of its common stock over the next three years.

In the quarter ended Dec. 31, earnings rose to $105.4 million, or $1.46 a share, from $103.3 million, or $1.43, a year earlier. Sales increased 7 percent, to $1.26 billion from $1.17 billion.

In the U.S., its largest region, pretax income dropped 29 percent in the quarter, reflecting significantly higher spending on advertising and marketing programs in 1993.

Avon's U.S. sales slipped 1 percent, with gains in skin care, color cosmetics, jewelry and family entertainment products wiped out by declines in fragrances and gift items, such as collectibles and special occasion products.

In the full year, income from continuing operations increased to $249.6 million, or $3.44 a share, from $239.4 million, or $3.32, in 1992.

After special charges of $107.5 million from accounting changes and post-retirement benefits, net income in 1993 came to $132.1 million, or $1.83 a share. In 1992, Avon earned $175 million, or $2.43 a share, after a restructuring charge of $64.4 million.

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