NEW YORK — Hefty sales gains allowed Quiksilver Inc. to easily outpace Wall Street forecasts in the fourth quarter.

For the three months ended Oct. 31, the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based active apparel maker reported a more than fivefold increase of 412.7 percent in net earnings to $12.2 million, or 49 cents a diluted share. That compares with last year’s profits of $2.4 million, or 10 cents. Earnings per share eclipsed analysts’ estimates by 6 cents.

Sales for the period grew 14.6 percent to $195 million from $170.2 million a year ago. Geographically, domestic net sales during the quarter grew 8.5 percent to $109.7 million from $101.1 million a year ago, while European net sales rose 23.5 percent to $85.3 million from $69.1 million last year. Measured in local currency, European net sales increased a more modest 14.5 percent year-over-year.

Also adding to sales was Quiksilver’s commitment to retailing, as the company opened 26 full-price stores by yearend, and acquired Beach Street, the owner and operator of 26 Quiksilver outlet stores.

"These results represent our fourth consecutive quarter in which we exceeded expectations, and we look forward to building on our strong momentum as we enter 2003," said chief executive officer Robert McKnight Jr. in a statement. "Fiscal 2002 was also a year filled with many strategic and operational accomplishments for our company. First and foremost, our recently announced merger with Ug Manufacturing Pty. Ltd. and Quiksilver Japan K.K., which is expected to close in the next few days, will allow us to consolidate global control over our wholesale business and unify the brand under one powerful operating force."

Overall, for the full fiscal year, Quiksilver reported net earnings improved by more than a third, gaining 34.2 percent to $37.6 million, or $1.54 a diluted share. That compares with last year’s net income of $28 million, or $1.17.

Sales for the year inflated 13.8 percent to $700.7 million from $615.5 million a year ago.

In a separate matter, Quiksilver said Wednesday that it has signed Ernie Els, the current British Open Champion and number-three ranked golfer in the world, to a five-year endorsement agreement for its Fidra Golf apparel line.Under the terms of the agreement, Els will wear Fidra apparel exclusively while competing professionally around the globe.

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