NEW YORK -- In a meeting with analysts last week, a Kellwood Co. official said he was comfortable with Wall Street projections that the company would earn 50 cents a share in the current first quarter, against 48 cents a year ago, after adjusting for a 3-for-2 stock split in February.

James C. Jacobson, executive vice president, said sales for the first quarter would be about even with a year earlier. Last year, Kellwood posted sales of $298.5 million and net earnings of $9.9 million in the first quarter ended July 31, 1993. Year-ago sales included an extra week and private label sales to the now-defunct Sears, Roebuck catalog. Jacobson also said projections for earnings per share of $1.99 or $2 for the fiscal year were reasonable, against $1.71 for the year ended April 30. However, earnings might be boosted by acquisitions. The diversified maker of apparel and other soft goods recently reported earnings in the fourth quarter ended April 30 advanced 11 percent, to $11.5 million, or 55 cents a share, from $10.4 million, or 50 cents, a year ago. Sales were virtually flat at $310.1 million from $309 million.

For the full fiscal year, earnings gained 24 percent, to $35.6 million from $28.7 million, or $1.39 a share. Sales rose 12 percent to $1.2 billion from $1.1 billion.

Jacobson told the analysts that despite a weak spring in women's apparel, the company was optimistic about the category for fall, based on strong bookings so far, and that the firm's long-term plan was intact.

Overall, Jacobson said, the company plans to grow through a combination of further penetration into existing markets, addition of accounts and acquisitions. Financial targets for the Nineties are to build sales at a rate of 10 to 12 percent yearly and net earnings at 15 to 20 percent, he said. The five-year goal is to boost sales to $2.1 billion.

Branded sales made up 67 percent of the 1994 total, and the goal is to reach 75 percent. Kellwood has bought 11 firms since 1986 and plans to make two or three acquisitions this year. Jacobson said Kellwood looks for companies with sales of $60 million to $100 million, strength in a niche, good management that will stay on and the ability to grow. Kellwood looks for smaller businesses that might be troubled as acquisitions to be absorbed into existing operations.Jacobson noted Kellwood plans to boost market share in Mexico, Japan and China. He also expressed enthusiasm for television home shopping, noting that Kellwood did $15 million in sales on QVC last year, up from nothing a year earlier. Sales of chenille robes racked up more than $600,000 in one day on QVC, he said.

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