NEW YORK — The Intimates and Underwear division of Sara Lee Corp. managed higher operating profits on flat sales in the third quarter.

The Chicago-based consumer goods giant reported that, in the third quarter ended March 29, its apparel unit’s operating income advanced 10.8 percent to $185 million from $167 million in last year’s quarter. Excluding restructuring costs, currency fluctuation and income and costs from closed, sold and acquired businesses, operating profits would have been $179 million versus $165 million, an 8.5 percent increase. Sales were unchanged at $1.5 billion in both years’ quarters.

Overall, Sara Lee generated net income of $269 million, or 33 cents a diluted share, in the quarter, 4.7 percent higher than the year-ago mark of $257 million, or 31 cents. Although unit volumes for continuing operations fell 2 percent, the strength of other currencies against the dollar allowed sales to advance 3.6 percent to $4.35 billion from $4.2 billion.

In a statement, chief executive Steven McMillan acknowledged that various restructuring and downsizing actions had benefited fiscal performance, as had new products and expanded marketing.

"In recent months," he cautioned, "we have seen some of these benefits offset by slower retail sales and a weaker environment for food service products, but we continue to focus our resources to provide convenient, everyday items that look, feel or taste terrific."

Those words, combined with a forecast for reduced fourth-quarter earnings of 36 to 38 cents a share, helped to lower the firm’s stock $1.94, or 9.8 percent, to close at $17.80 in New York Stock Exchange trading when the results were released Thursday. The firm earned 43 cents in last year’s final quarter. On Friday, shares descended another 4.7 percent to $16.96.

Intimates and Underwear accounted for 34.4 percent of corporate sales and 49.1 percent of operating income, versus year-ago levels of 35.6 percent and 46.6 percent, respectively.

Principally because of a 13 percent drop in sheer hosiery units, divisional unit sales in the quarter dropped 3 percent during the quarter and were off 5 percent on a dollar basis excluding the effects of favorable exchange rate swings and discontinued operations. Global intimate apparel units sales were flat, knit products were down 4 percent and legwear was off 10 percent.For the nine months, Sara Lee’s net income grew 40.4 percent, to $925 million, or $1.13 a diluted share, from $659 million, or 80 cents. Sales ticked up 4 percent to $13.66 billion from $13.13 billion.

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