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North Face owner maintains forecast, shares hit life-high

* 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 to 48 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 Face outdoor wear, reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit and 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 up to Friday, rose as much as 5 percent to a life-high.

The company benefited from strong sales of its higher-margin outdoor and action sports brands, which apart from The North Face include Timberland, Vans and JanSport.

The company also owns the Wrangler and Lee denimwear brands.

The National Retail Federation said last week that 29 percent of consumers it polled believed the political gridlock over the U.S. budget would affect their holiday spending. Eight of 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 Chief Financial Officer Robert Shearer told Reuters in an interview.

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

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

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


VF, in contrast, appears to be weathering the tough spending climate. The company's outdoor sports brands, in particular, are expected to do well in the holiday season.

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

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

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

The company expects full-year gross margins to rise about 150 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 through department stores and mass merchants, said sales in its outdoor and 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 percent from the previous quarter to $1.05 per share.

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

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