THE ESTEE LAUDER COS. began its new fiscal year much as it ended the last one — with healthy bottom- and top-line gains. For the first quarter ended Sept. 30, the New York-based beauty giant reported a 4.9 percent gain in net income to $77 million, or 33 cents a diluted share, from $73.4 million, or 28 cents, a year ago. Lauder’s earnings per share beat the Wall Street forecast by 1 cent. Net sales for the three months pushed up 8.8 percent to $1.35 billion from $1.24 billion last year, as the company experienced sales growth across all product categories, in most geographic markets and from currency fluctuation, as well. In local currencies, sales increased 6 percent. The company formed a strategic alliance with Kohl’s Corp. to create and manage color cosmetics and skin care departments in Kohl’s stores beginning in fall 2004. Lauder also confirmed that it is investing $15 million in fiscal 2004 primarily to develop the new business with the Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based department store chain. By product category in the first quarter, recent launches of wrinkle and refinishing creams elevated sales of skin care products 10 percent to $462.9 million, or 7 percent before giving effect to currency translation. Makeup sales rose 6 percent to $494.1 million, or 4 percent in local currencies; fragrance sales grew 12 percent to $331.1 million, or 9 percent in constant currency, and hair care products saw sales improve 9 percent to $54.8 million….The ongoing financial crisis at REVLON INC. continued as the beauty giant again languished in the red during the third quarter. In the three months ended Sept. 30, Revlon experienced a net loss of $54.7 million, or 78 cents a diluted share, extending its losing streak to 20 quarters in a row. This compares with a loss of $22.1 million, or 41 cents, in the same period last year. Overall revenues in the quarter declined 2.1 percent to $316.5 million from $323.2 million in last year’s quarter, reflecting lower sales in North America that were only partially offset by favorable foreign currency translation. Excluding the positive exchange impact, sales declined about 5 percent. The quarter’s results were hit by charges of $5 million associated with its growth plan, bringing the total anticipated charges for the year to $31 million. Last year, charges for the plan hit $104 million. An additional $25 million next year and after will lift the plan’s total bill to $160 million. In addition, the company said it incurred charges totaling $600,000 for restructuring and additional consolidation costs, while the third quarter of 2002 included charges of $4.2 million. At the same time, Revlon is burning cash even faster than anticipated and is expected to seek amendments or waivers from lenders to keep it from falling out of compliance with current credit agreements. It’s already spent $248 million of a $250 million credit agreement; all of a $100 million term loan from its principal owner, Ronald Perelman’s MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., and $20 million of another $65 million M&F line of credit. At the end of the quarter, long-term debt stood at $1.86 billion, up from $1.75 billion at the end of December 2002. Last week, M&F agreed to infuse another $125 million into the troubled firm with a $100 million term loan that can be drawn on in 2004 and $25 million to back that up. The approval of Revlon’s board and its banks is required….AVON PRODUCTS INC. posted a 47 percent jump in third-quarter earnings, results that exceeded the high end of the company’s earlier guidance. For the three months ended Sept. 30, income skyrocketed 47 percent to $133.1 million, or 56 cents a share, from $90.3 million, or 38 cents, in the year-ago quarter. The quarter’s EPS included a 2 1/2 cent per share benefit from a tax audit settlement and receipt of an Internal Revenue Service refund, offset by 1 1/2 cents per share of expenses related to the redemption of a convertible bond issue in July. Total revenues rose 11.3 percent to $1.63 billion from $1.46 billion, which included sales of $1.61 billion versus $1.45 billion last year, driven by a 15 percent increase in beauty sales and a 10 percent gain in the number of active representatives. The U.S., Avon’s largest market, tallied sales growth of 7 percent and a 9 percent advance in sales of beauty products on promising early results from two launches in the quarter, Anew Clinical and Mark. The European region posted sales growth of 23 percent, with Russia again delivering “standout performance” with sales up 60 percent. In Latin America, sales were up 14 percent, while in the Pacific region, sales rose 7 percent. China generated sales growth of 30 percent….With sales volumes up and restructuring costs no longer weighing on results, THE PROCTER & GAMBLE CO. reported double-digit earnings increases for the first quarter. For the three months ended Sept. 30, the Cincinnati-based consumer products giant said earnings expanded 20.3 percent to $1.76 billion, or $1.26 a diluted share, beating Wall Street’s consensus estimate by 1 cent. Comparatively, the company reported earnings of $1.46 billion, or $1.04, last year. The company attributed the positive results to lower manufacturing costs, higher volumes and the absence of $113 million in restructuring charges that had adversely affected last year’s results. Sales for the period increased 13 percent to $12.2 billion from $11 billion last year, largely driven by double-digit growth from the company’s beauty and health-care divisions. Favorable foreign exchange rates were responsible for 3 percent of the quarterly sales gain. Sales in the beauty division grew 20 percent to $3.75 billion, getting a sizable boost from the recent acquisition of Wella. Excluding Wella, beauty care sales increased 8 percent on the strength of the company’s Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Always/Whisper and Olay brands. Beauty’s contribution to earnings was $616 million, a 12 percent increase from the year-ago quarter. The health care division led the sales growth charge, increasing 23 percent to $1.73 billion….Reduced restructuring costs helped UNILEVER PLC generate a 14.8 percent increase in net income in the third quarter. The foods-to-fragrances group said net profit in the third quarter rose to $1.1 billion from $959.4 million, chiefly due to lower restructuring costs and other aftertax exceptional items. Dollar figures have been converted from the euro at current exchange as Unilever reported profits of 941 million euros against 820 million euros one year ago. At $14.38 billion, or 12.29 billion euros, sales were flat against the corresponding quarter last year. The company said lack of growth was due to underperforming businesses and a difficult business environment….Higher costs associated with its Sally Hansen products put a wrinkle in DEL LABORATORIES’ third-quarter financial results. For the three months ended Sept. 30, the Uniondale, N.Y.-based cosmetics maker said profits slid by 8.7 percent to $4.7 million, or 48 cents a diluted share, compared with $5.1 million, or 54 cents, in the same period last year. The company noted the quarterly results were adversely impacted by higher advertising and display costs in support of its new Sally Hansen Healing Beauty product line of skin care makeup and its core Sally Hansen franchise. Sales for the period rose 4.7 percent to $99.7 million from $95.2 million….Strong sales growth and successful restructuring actions helped vault THE ALBERTO-CULVER CO. to double-digit gains for the fourth quarter. For the three months ended Sept. 30, the Melrose Park, Ill.-based beauty care manufacturer saw earnings jump 16.3 percent to $45.7 million, or 76 cents a diluted share, trouncing Wall Street’s consensus estimate of 67 cents. Comparatively, the company posted earnings of $39.3 million, or 66 cents, in the same period last year. Sales for the quarter rose 7.7 percent to $751.6 million against $697.9 million last year….INTER PARFUMS INC.’s third-quarter profits soared on robust sales growth and improved margins. For the three months ended Sept. 30, the New York-based perfume and cosmetics manufacturer said net income shot up 74 percent to $4.7 million, or 23 cents a diluted share. That compares with last year’s earnings of $2.7 million, or 14 cents. Earnings eclipsed the Wall Street forecast by 8 cents. Net sales for the period swelled 53.6 percent to $57.4 million from $37.4 million a year ago. Excluding the effects of currency fluctuation, sales were up 44 percent. Operating margin rose 130 basis points to 14.7 percent of sales from 13.4 percent a year ago…. NU SKIN ENTERPRISES finished its third quarter behind last year’s numbers but at the high end of guidance as profits for the three months ended Sept. 30 slipped 5.1 percent to $15.1 million, or 19 cents a diluted share. Despite help from currency fluctuation, sales backtracked 1.1 percent to $250.2 million from $252.9 million in the corresponding year-ago period.