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fourth-quarter profit jumped 77% thanks to strong sales and a tax benefit.

The sneaker company reported net income for the quarter of $47.7 million, or 78 cents a share, up from the $28 million, or 44 cents a share, a year ago. The results were boosted by a tax benefit totaling $12 million.

Excluding the tax benefits, Reebok's earnings rose 34% to $35.7 million, or 59 cents a share, beating Wall Street's expectations. Analysts were expecting earnings of 52 cents a share, according to consensus estimates reported by Thomson First Call. The company's shares were recently up $2.85, or 6.8%, to $44.45.

For the full year, the company earned $187.5 million or $2.98 a share, up 23% as compared with the previous year's earnings of $157.3 million, or $2.43 a share.

"I am pleased with our overall results for the year," said Reebok's chairman and chief executive, Paul Fireman, in a statement. "We achieved the highest sales results in the history of the company. ... This also marks our fifth consecutive year of earnings improvement. We achieved our earnings growth this year through increased revenues and by accomplishing our previously stated goal of improving the operating margins for the company."

Sales in the fourth quarter were up 16% to $975 million, thanks in part to the acquisition of The Hockey Company in June and foreign currency exchange gains. For the Reebok brand, worldwide sales rose 18% to $817 million, while U.S. sales were up 9%.

The company's other brands -- Rockport, the Greg Norman Collection and Ralph Lauren Footwear -- posted sales of $158 million, up 6% from last year's $149 million.

Its gross margin for the quarter improved by 30 basis points to 38.5%, compared with 38.2% in the fourth quarter of 2003.

Net sales for all of 2004 were $3.8 billion, up 9% from 2003 net sales of $3.5 billion. On a constant dollar basis, net sales increased 5% over the prior year's sales. Reebok said it returned $101 million dollars to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases for the year, representing approximately 52% of its after-tax earnings.