Despite setbacks, analysts still bullish on Nike

Nike's Beaverton Campus Brandon Carson Nike's Beaverton Campus

Although the athletic apparel giant issued a lukewarm earnings report yesterday, and industry watchers say the company’s grip on the sneaker market is slipping, analysts expressed optimism about Nike’s new consumer-focused growth strategies.

“Most sources acknowledge that Adidas…is giving Nike a run for its money,” Morgan Stanley analyst Jay Sole wrote in a recent stock report. “However, each source also expressed high conviction Nike will adjust.”

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At least nine brokerages lowered their price targets on Nike stock after the athletic apparel giant issued its Q1 earnings report. Nike reported its weakest quarterly sales growth in nearly seven years, and revenue remained flat from last year. 

Increased revenues will come slowly. Nike’s CFO Andy Campion said on the earnings call that he expects Q2 revenue growth in the “low single digit range” and “mid single digit range” for the full year.


Nike headquarters entrance ParkerKnightEntrance to the Nike Campus. Image Credit: Parker Knight


There’s no question that Nike has been stumbling more than ever in recent months. The earnings report comes after an announcement in June that Nike plans to layoff around 1,400 employees.

Sole urged investors to look beyond short-term struggles. He maintained a Nike stock rating of “overweight,” which means the stock will outperform the industry or market.

Nike's playbook hinges on a “consumer-direct” offense that aims to bring products to consumers more quickly by bypassing retailers and selling directly through online markets.

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The plan includes a deal with Amazon and an option for consumers to buy products on Instagram. Nike CEO Mark Parker said in the earnings call consumer-direct is a more personal approach that will emphasize digital and mobile applications.

Matt Powell, an analyst at NPD group, said he expects consumer-direct will prove effective.

Seventy percent of Nike’s growth came from online business in the past year, he noted, and the company can better control its image online.

However, Nike’s strategy will likely hurt athletic apparel retailers, an already embattled sector.

Since a June report that Nike would launch its products on Amazon, retailer shares fell—Foot Locker Inc by nearly 2%, Hibbett Sports Inc by 6.8%  and Big 5 Sporting Goods Inc by 5.3%. 

Several sports retailers, including Sports Authority, have already filed for bankruptcy. The more business Nike does with Amazon, the less the company offers to these retailers.

“There’s only so much business out there,” Powell said. “They’ll be doing less business with their wholesale partners.”

Foot Locker michael rivera

Image Credit: Michael Rivera

Some analysts also worry that Nike has lost its ability to innovate. Although Nike sat in what one analyst called an “innovation lull” recently, Adidas overtook the Jordan Sneaker brand, riding on the hype over stunning innovations like its “Futurecraft 4D” 3D-printed shoes.

Ellen Schmidt-Devlin, cofounder and director of the University of Oregon’s sports product management program and a 27-year Nike veteran, doubts that Nike engineers are twiddling their thumbs. The company may be waiting on the upcoming Olympics or another big event to debut a blockbuster innovation, a favored Nike tactic in the past.

“They’re a careful company,” she said. “Just because they’re not talking about it, doesn’t mean they don’t have it coming.”

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Despite the spate of bad news coming from earnings reports and layoffs, Nike continues to grow its Beaverton campus. It is building a 3.2-million-square-foot project with an estimated price tag of $1 billion.

Sales will probably get worse before they get better as Nike shifts its strategy, but analysts are confident the company will get back on track.

“It has been so surprising that we have wondered if Nike has somehow ‘lost its edge,’ Sole says in his report.

“In fact, many bears wonder if Nike is ‘over.’ Within the industry, Nike has always been known for forward thinking and operational excellence. When Nike has encountered problems in the past, these traits have always led it back to success. Maybe this time is different. We doubt it.”

As Adidas and Under Armor continue to threaten Nike’s market share in the U.S., however, the company might need to shift its focus to international markets.

Nike’s North America revenue declined 3% in the first quarter, while international markets now account for 55% of Nike’s total revenue.

“Nike’s U.S. business will continue to be challenged,” Powell said, “but they’ve shown an ability to grow outside the U.S.” 

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