The Goldman Sachs and Nike corporate logos are displayed on a post above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. File photo: REUTERS
The Goldman Sachs and Nike corporate logos are displayed on a post above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. File photo: REUTERS

New York — After several quarters on the bench, Nike has finally healed the damage inflicted by Adidas.

Nike increased sales in North America for the first time in a year, after its smaller European rival had been out-manoeuvring the sneaker giant on its home turf. Nike’s improved performance, sparked by new products and a smartphone shopping app, unleashed a slew of praise from Wall Street analysts. The stock surged as much as 13% to a record high in Friday trading.

"A key part of Nike’s story has fallen into place with the strong return to growth of its largest market," said Chris Svezia, an analyst for Wedbush Securities. "Nike product is making a clear comeback."

For more than a year, the Oregon-based company has been promising investors that slowing growth and revenue declines in its largest market were only a short-term trend. Nike said the lion’s share of the blame fell on US retail partners, which have been closing stores amid a broader industry retrenchment. But it also faced a rejuvenated Adidas, which has regained its cachet with consumers and been posting growth rates in North America of about 20%.

Even as Nike was caught off guard in the US, the company restored the confidence of investors and analysts over the past year with its international performance. Its rapid growth overseas, where it generates more than half its revenue, continued last quarter with sales surging 35% in China and 24% in the region that includes Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Regional response

Nike has responded to its troubles in North America by reducing the number of retailers it sells to in the region, while also pushing more purchases through its own stores and websites. This was done to improve margins, by cutting out the middle-man, and maintaining better control of how the brand is displayed.

The improvement in North America prompted the company to nudge up its outlook for the current fiscal year and is now forecasting annual sales growth in the high single-digits.

Last quarter’s results also came when the company responded to a misconduct scandal by pushing out a handful of high-ranking executives after an internal review. The offending behaviour skewed towards bullying and unfair treatment of women. Most of the Wall Street analysts covering Nike, who addressed the incident, said the loss of talent and bad press would have little impact on the company’s performance, and last quarter backed that up.

Profit, meanwhile, got a boost from the corporate tax cuts passed in the US last year. The company’s rate fell to 6.4% — half its rate a year ago — and it shaved $82m off its tax bill. The company also announced a $15bn share buy-back programme, which will begin when its current $12bn programme is concluded in the current fiscal year.

Overall sales were $9.8bn, surpassing analysts’ average estimate of $9.4bn.

"Everything is pointing in the right direction," said Chen Grazutis, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence. "The top line is clicking again, and they are gaining traction with new products."