Increased demand in the U.S., Latin America and Asia lifted fourth-quarter sales at Columbia Sportswear as the outerwear and sportswear maker’s bottom line by far exceeded expectations on Wall Street.


For the three months ended Dec. 31, net income at the Portland, Ore.-based firm grew 24.4 percent to $23.1 million, or 68 cents a diluted share, from $18.6 million or 55 cents, in last year’s final three months. The year-ago period included an impairment charge of 46 cents a share.


Sales in the quarter climbed 1 percent to $358.3 million from $354.9 million in 2008.


Analysts polled by Yahoo Finance had expected earnings per share of 39 cents on revenues of $331.3 million on average.


The company’s U.S. sales grew 5.1 percent to $215.5 million, while sales in its Latin America and Asia Pacific division, bolstered by favorable exchange rates, climbed 15.7 percent to $72.9 million. Revenues in its Europe, Middle East and Africa unit, negatively affected by currency exchange, fell 22.9 percent to $46.2 million.


Accessories and equipment sales led product categories with a 38 percent increase to $22.9 million, while footwear sales gained 18.6 percent to $70.9 million. Outerwear sales were flat at $171.5 million. Sportswear revenues fell 12.9 percent to $93 million.


Gross margins in the quarter remained at 42.1 percent.


Tim Boyle, Columbia president and chief executive officer, called 2009 “a challenging year, but as our fourth-quarter results demonstrate, we finished on an upswing in consumer and retailer demand, which gives us guarded optimism about 2010.”


The company said it expected sales in the current quarter to grow between 4 percent and 5 percent from the $272 million it registered in 2009. It anticipates an approximate 2 percent improvement in gross margin in the first quarter due to less promotional activity on excess fall inventory.


For the whole of 2009, profits at Columbia fell 29.5 percent to $67 million, or $1.97 a share, from $95 million, or $2.74, in 2008. Sales in the 12 months fell 5.6 percent to $1.24 billion from $1.32 billion in the comparable period.


Shares of the company fell 3.4 percent on Thursday, ahead of the after-market announcement, to close at $40.47.

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