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Nike’s slowdown seen as sign Under Armour, others gaining



FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, file photo, Nike products appear on display at the SIX:02 shop inside Foot Locker's redesigned Manhattan flagship store in New York. Nike is expected to report financial results Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Nike products appear on display inside Foot Locker’s redesigned Manhattan flagship store. A slowdown in the pace of orders has some speculating that it reflects gains made by Under Armour and others. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Nike’s closely watched futures orders are barely increasing in North America, renewing concerns that Under Armour and other competitors are hamstringing the company’s once-torrid growth.

The orders — a key indicator of demand for the brand’s sneakers and apparel — rose just 1 percent in North America as of Aug. 31, according to a statement Tuesday from the Beaverton, Oregon-based company. Analysts had projected a 5 percent gain. The figure tracks products that will be delivered between September and January.

“The slowdown in North America is worse than expected,” said Chen Grazutis, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

Increased competition from Adidas AG and Under Armour has taken a toll on the world’s largest athletic brand this year, with slowing sales growth in its home country. That’s hammered the stock, which is on pace for its first annual decline in eight years. Futures orders also came in just short of estimates in China.

Earnings topped analysts’ estimates last quarter, but they were helped by a tax benefit. A resolution of a foreign tax credit matter with the Internal Revenue Service reduced Nike’s effective tax rate to 2.5 percent, compared with more than 18 percent a year earlier.

Nike reported profit of 73 cents a share, compared with an average analyst projection of 56 cents. Still, there were troubling signs beneath the surface, Grazutis said. Nike’s gross margin missed estimates by 100 basis points, suggesting that the company relied more heavily on discounts to fuel growth.

The company generated less earnings before interest and taxes during the quarter, with that measure of profitability falling 11 percent to $1.28 billion. Net income rose 5.9 percent thanks to the lower tax bill, while revenue gained 8 percent to $9.1 billion.

The company also reiterated its sales forecast for the year ending this May, calling for growth at a high-single-digit percentage.

‘We’re excited’

Nike said that orders aren’t a proxy for revenue, and it remains confident that North America would continue to be a strong region — with annual sales growing at a high-single-digit percentage through 2020. In an effort to downplay the importance of orders, the company will change how they are reported by moving them from the earnings press release to the investor call that follows.

“We’re excited about the pipeline of great products that we have coming,” Trevor Edwards, president of the Nike brand, said on a conference call. “The brand is as strong as ever.”

Nike had been thriving in the years since the recession, with the stock averaging annual gains of 26 percent since 2008. But 2016 has been a struggle. Under Armour has attacked its lucrative basketball-shoe business with its Stephen Curry line. Meanwhile, Adidas has taken some of its casual business with retro styles like Superstar. That’s raised doubts about Nike’s ability to hit its long-term goal of boosting annual revenue from $32 billion to $50 billion by 2020.

“There is more competition from brands that didn’t have the cachet they do now,” Grazutis said.

Finish Line Inc. added to doubts about Nike on Friday, when the U.S.-based chain shoe chain said sales of Nike’s premium basketball shoes fell last quarter. Chief Executive Officer Sam Sato also praised Nike’s competition, calling the performance of Under Armour’s latest Curry shoes “tremendous” and said that Adidas remained “on fire.”