NEW YORK — Surging sales and increased efficiency propelled Columbia Sportswear Co. to a nearly two-thirds jump in profits in the first quarter.

For the three months ended March 31, the Portland, Ore.-based outerwear and sportswear manufacturer said net earnings shot up 66.5 percent to $14.9 million, or 37 cents a diluted share. Last year the firm generated income of $9 million, or 22 cents. EPS outpaced the Wall Street forecast by a walloping 11 cents.

Consolidated net sales for the period grew 17.8 percent to $168.9 million from $143.3 million a year ago. In constant dollars, net sales increased 12 percent to $160.5 million. Results do not incorporate operations from Mountain Hardwear Inc., the acquisition of which was completed March 31.

"Based on previously announced spring season bookings, worldwide sales continued to expand during the period, led by strong growth in our sportswear and footwear product lines," said chief executive officer Tim Boyle in a statement. "The acceleration of our spring business globally is in part the result of previously discussed management restructurings in sportswear and footwear, coupled with innovative product development. Our ability to efficiently source and distribute our products, combined with strong demand, contributed to expanding gross margins, operating leverage and record first-quarter earnings."

By region, U.S. sales rose 9.8 percent to $99.6 million over last year, while Canadian sales gained 39.2 percent to $18.1 million. Sales in Europe rose 27.8 percent to $32.2 million and all other international sales increased 31.9 percent to $19 million. In constant dollars, Canadian sales were up 32.1 percent, European sales gained 3.4 percent and all other global sales rose 23.2 percent.

By product category, outerwear sales fell 1.9 percent to $36 million, while sportswear sales increased 20.9 percent to $97.8 million. Accessories sales remained flat year-over-year at $5.4 million and footwear sales climbed by almost half, or 47 percent, to $29.7 million.

Greater efficiency also helped build a better bottom line, as gross margin expanded 270 basis points to 45.4 percent of sales from 42.7 percent a year ago, and selling, general and administrative costs declined 90 basis points to 31.4 percent of sales from 32.3 percent in last year’s first quarter.In guidance, Boyle said Columbia should generate second-quarter revenue growth of 18 to 20 percent and net income growth of up to 5 percent over the prior-year period. For the full fiscal year, Columbia forecasts year-over-year revenue growth of 12 to 14 percent, with Mountain Hardwear contributing revenue of approximately $30 million. Consolidated net income growth is expected to increase 8 to 10 percent.

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