Nike star basketball player LeBron James won the brand a big victory when he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a major comeback victory in the NBA Finals earlier this month. Unfortunately, the world’s athletic-gear maker couldn’t follow up with a slam dunk of its own.
The Oregon-based company on Tuesday reported fiscal fourth-quarter results on Tuesday and while the company continues to notch sales growth, Wall Street observers were disappointed. Shares were down about 7% in after hours trading.
Here’s why: Nike (NKE) reported total sales increased 6% to $8.24 billion, but analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had projected an increase to $8.27 billion. Perhaps more troublesome, Nike’s future orders – which are an important gauge of the brand’s demand over the next several months – weren’t as strong as analysts expected. Brand reported futures are expected to grow 11% overall and 6% in North America, excluding swings in currency. Analysts surveyed by Consensus Metrix had predicted 13% overall and 9% in North America.
On a conference call with analysts, Nike executives told Wall Street that sales would grow in the “mid single digits” in the fiscal first quarter, slightly below the 9% growth projected by analysts. But executives defended the brand in North America—repeating bullish comments lauding the “strength of the brand” many times during the prepared remarks and when addressing analysts’ questions.
Nike Brand President Trevor Edwards says he “felt confident” about how the brand was received, while CEO Mark Parker reaffirmed Nike’s target to hit $50 billion in annual sales by 2020, a target the company outlined last October. Fiscal 2016 sales climbed 6% to $32.4 billion.
Athletic apparel makers have reported strong consistent sales growth at a time when the broader apparel and retail market in the U.S. has struggled to win over shoppers. Athletic gear is “on trend” and this year will see even greater interest and excitement with the Rio Olympics this summer.
Heading into the results, analysts had expressed worries about strong competition hurting Nike, especially from local star Under Armour (UA) and resurgent German rival Adidas. Nike’s North American sales were roughly flat in the latest period at around $3.74 billion. Overall sales were aided by increases in Western Europe, Greater China and Japan, helping offset declines in emerging markets and Central and Eastern Europe.
There were also concerns about Nike’s might in the world of basketball, especially with increased interest in star athlete Stephen Curry, who battled against James in the NBA finals and is endorsed by rival Under Armour. Under Armour is putting a lot of marketing heft behind Curry, and some of that effort could pressure sales for gear backed by Nike’s star athletes.
The latest results indicate it could be a modest competitive factor. The Jordan brand – which Nike is placing a bigger bet on expanding – posted 18% growth in total wholesale revenue for the latest fiscal year. But the smaller Nike basketball category, which includes James and Kevin Durant shoes, reported a 1% decline over that period.
“We feel good about the trajectory of the basketball business,” Edwards said, adding interest in basketball as a sport was at an all-time high and lauding the company’s strong roster of players in the NBA.