High-end clothing designer and retailer Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. on Wednesday said fiscal fourth-quarter earnings rose nearly 36 percent before one-time items in its fiscal fourth quarter, boosted by higher revenues and margins.

The company also reaffirmed its forecast for the coming fiscal year and said it expects second-quarter earnings-per-share growth of 20 percent, as it focuses on distributing high-margin luxury products. 

Although the New York-based company saw a deceleration of retail sales trends, primarily in full-price stores, it said it will continue to invest in full-price retailing. 

"You don't change your strategic direction for a short-term slowdown in the economy,'' said industry analyst Jeffrey Edelman of UBS Warburg. 

There are a limited number of department stores that successfully retail luxury brands, so the full-price retail store is a good alternative, said analyst Carol Murray of Salomon Smith Barney. 

"Short term, there could be some impact from the consumer who seems to be spending more selectively. Longer term, and that is how strategies are typically developed, it's definitely the right direction," Murray said. 

Polo said income for the quarter ended March 31 rose to $43.1 million, or 44 cents per diluted share, excluding restructuring charges and foreign currency gains. That compared with $31.8 million, or 32 cents, in the corresponding quarter a year earlier. 

Analysts' estimates ranged from 42 to 44 cents, with an average of 43 cents, according to data tracking firm Thomson Financial/First Call. 

Revenues for the quarter rose 15 percent to $538.5 million from $466.9 million in the prior year. Sales gains were driven by the acquisition of the Polo Ralph Lauren brands in Europe, single-digit sales growth in the Polo Ralph Lauren full price and outlet stores and a higher number of Club Monaco stores, the company said. 

Club Monaco merchandise has been whittled down to men's and women's apparel and a turnaround in the men's line is expected starting in July thanks to new sizing, Chief Operating Officer Roger Farah told analysts in a conference call. 

Gross profit as adjusted for the quarter rose 80 basis points to 49.5 percent of net revenues, compared with 48.7 percent a year ago, due to higher margins associated with the European business and sales of a larger proportion of men's and women's luxury apparel, the company said. 

"It's been their strategy some time now to emphasize the luxury business,'' said analyst Mitch Kummetz of A.G. Edwards. ''And that makes sense to me.'' 

Last year, 45 percent of retail sales were comprised of luxury products and that percentage is expected to grow by 25 points in fiscal 2002, Farah said. 

The company reiterated that it expects fiscal 2002 earnings per share in the range of $1.93 to $1.98, driven by mid-single-digit revenue growth and a 1 percent improvement in operating margins due to decreased operating expenses. 

Polo Ralph Lauren shares closed up 74 cents, or 2.58 percent, to $29.40 in New York Stock Exchange trading. The stock has outperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 index by about 25 percent since the beginning of the year. 

Including the restructuring charges and foreign currency gains, net income for the fourth quarter was $47.5 million, or 48 cents per diluted share, the company said.