North Face owner maintains forecast, shares hit life-high

Reuters

* Third-quarter adjusted earnings $3.91/share vs est $3.78

* Revenue rises 5 pct to $3.27 bln vs est $3.34 bln

* Expects FY gross margin to rise about 150 basis points to48 pct

* Increases quarterly dividend by 21 pct

* Shares rise 5 pct to life-high

By Maria Ajit Thomas

Oct 21 (Reuters) - VF Corp, maker of The North Faceoutdoor wear, reported a better-than-expected quarterly profitand maintained its full-year forecast at a time when other U.S.retailers brace for a tough holiday season.

VF shares, which had already gained 35 percent this year upto Friday, rose as much as 5 percent to a life-high.

The company benefited from strong sales of its higher-marginoutdoor and action sports brands, which apart from The NorthFace include Timberland, Vans and JanSport.

The company also owns the Wrangler and Lee denimwear brands.

The National Retail Federation said last week that 29percent of consumers it polled believed the political gridlockover the U.S. budget would affect their holiday spending. Eightof every 10 surveyed said they would spend less.

"I wouldn't call (the U.S. consumer spending environment)robust but I wouldn't necessarily call it tough," VF ChiefFinancial Officer Robert Shearer told Reuters in an interview.

"What we're seeing overall is that the U.S. consumer seemspretty resilient right now...," he said.

Shearer said the company maintained its forecast because ofplanned spending on marketing, which will total $30 million inthe fourth quarter.

The budget crisis compounded the woes of a struggling retailindustry as higher taxes and gasoline prices forced consumers tocurb spending. In August, retailers such as Macy's Inc andWal-Mart Stores Inc cut their forecasts for the year.

OUTDOOR SELLS

VF, in contrast, appears to be weathering the tough spendingclimate. The company's outdoor sports brands, in particular, areexpected to do well in the holiday season.

"... Our checks point to solid orders for key brands (TheNorth Face) in the fourth quarter," UBS Investment Researchanalyst Michael Binetti wrote in a note to client.

VF said it expects an adjusted profit of $10.85 per share onrevenue of $11.5 billion for the full year.

Analysts on average were expecting a profit of $10.95 onrevenue of $11.5 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company expects full-year gross margins to rise about150 basis points to 48 percent. In the third quarter ended Sept.28, gross margin improved 90 basis points to 47.6 percent.

VF, which sells through its own stores as well as throughdepartment stores and mass merchants, said sales in its outdoorand action sports business rose 6.5 percent to $1.97 billion,accounting for 60 percent of overall sales.

VF Corp also increased its quarterly dividend by 21 percentfrom the previous quarter to $1.05 per share.

The company said its board approved a four-for-one split ofits share, payable in the form of a stock dividend.

For the third quarter, VF reported a 14 percent rise inprofit and posted adjusted earnings that beat analysts'estimates. Revenue rose 5 percent to $3.27 billion, slightlybelow the analysts' forecast.

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