ST. LOUIS -- Kellwood Co. reported profits rose 42.1 percent in the third quarter and 31.6 percent in the nine months ended Jan. 31.

Kellwood earned $3.5 million, or 25 cents a share, in the latest quarter, compared with $2.5 million, or 18 cents, a year earlier.

Sales rose 6.6 percent to $251.6 million from $235.9 million.

The diversified soft goods manufacturer said the company continues to benefit from higher sales, better operating efficiencies and product sourcing and a shift in its sales mix to more branded products.

"Our continued sales growth is indicative of Kellwood gaining market sharet with leading retailers across the country," said William J. McKenna, chairman and chief executive officer. "While the sale of apparel at retail has generally been weak, product offerings from Kellwood's business units performed well in both the fall and holiday selling seasons. As a result, we are well positioned with retail buyers for future seasons."

Earnings for the nine months came to $24.1 million, or $1.74, up from $18.3 million, or $1.33. Sales improved 16.1 percent to $892.1 million from $768.7 million. McKenna noted that sales reached record levels in both the third quarter and nine months. As of January 31, inventories were $197 million against $210 million a year ago.

In another development, Kellwood raised its quarterly dividend 12.5 percent to 22.5 cents from 20 cents and announced a three-for-two stock split, both of which are payable March 18 to holders of record on March 7.

The increased dividend will be paid on the basis of shares outstanding prior to the split.

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