Columbia Sportswear raised its sales by 19 percent in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) to $83.5 million for the fourth quarter of 2017, up by 14 percent in constant currencies. It was the strongest regional increase in a better-than-expected quarter for the U.S. outdoor company, which ended the year with unprecedented sales and underlying profit.

With sales moving up across all regional markets, the group's quarterly turnover advanced by 8 percent to $776.0 million for the three months. The uptick in the European turnover was achieved through increased sales of the group's direct business as well as sales to distributors. Sales were on the rise in the U.S. market as well, up by 8 percent to $492.6 million, owing to increased retail sales and a shift in the timing of shipments from the third to the fourth quarter. Latin America and Asia Pacific (LAAP) generated a sales rise of 2 percent to $154.3 million, up by 3 percent in constant currencies, and sales increased by 14 percent to $45.6 million in Canada, with exchange rate changes accounting for 5 percentage points of the growth.

Columbia Sportswear reported a small net loss of $7.1 million for the quarter, compared with income of $87.4 million for the same three months in 2016, but this was due to adjustments in U.S. tax rules. Excluding the tax-related costs as well as other expenses of $6.3 million, mostly relating to the Project Connect transformation program, net income was up by 9 percent for the quarter.

The robust fourth quarter enabled Columbia Sportswear to report a sales jump of 4 percent to $2.47 billion for the year. It was buoyed by a sales hike of 16 percent to $293.7 million in EMEA, up by 14 percent in constant currencies, again including increases in direct sales and in sales to distributors.

Tim Boyle, the group's chief executive, said in a conference call that Columbia was encouraged by the performance of its European direct business, marking a third consecutive year of double-digit sales gains in constant currencies. It reached breakeven in 2016 and returned to a meaningful level of profitability last year. When it comes to distribution partners, Boyle singled out the group's Russian partner, Sportmaster, which returned Columbia's business in the country to significant expansion last year.

Despite the robust U.S. demand in the fourth quarter, sales in the country moved up by just 1 percent to $1.52 billion for the full year. Sales in LAAP climbed by 5 percent to $475.1 million, with a negative impact of 1 percentage point from exchange rate changes. Columbia Sportswear raised its sales in China, in Japan and to regional distributors, while Korean sales flattened. Canadian sales advanced by 8 percent to $177.3 million. The Columbia, Sorel and Prana brands all raised their sales for the year, while Mountain Hardwear's turnover slipped by 2 percent.

Columbia Sportswear's gross profit margin moved up by 0.3 percentage points to 47.0 percent. The operating profit margin contracted by 0.1 percentage point to 10.7 percent but it would have firmed up by 0.5 percentage points to 11.3 percent without the costs related to Project Connect. Compared with net income of $191.9 million in 2016, the group's net profit for 2017 shrank by 45 percent to $105.1 million in reported terms but it was up by 9 percent to $210.1 million on an underlying basis.

The outdoor group predicts a sales hike of 5.5 percent to 7 percent in reported terms for 2018, with an operating margin of 10.1 percent to 10.3 percent and net income of $203 million to $211 million.

Meanwhile, Michael Levi has been appointed as European sales director for Columbia Sportswear from the start of this year. He takes over from Matthieu Schegg, who became the U.S. outdoor group's vice president and general manager for EMEA in June. Levi previously spent several years at Nike, and he was most recently general manager for apparel at the Oberalp Group, covering the Salewa, Dynafit and Wild Country brands. Read all the details on the group's results and extra insights from Columbia's management in the Outdoor Industry Compass.