Nike Edges Higher After Oppenheimer Upgrade Linked to Digital Sales Focus

Nike Inc. (NKE) shares rose 0.7% to $77.04 on Thursday after it was raised to "outperform" at Oppenheimer with a price target of $90 thanks to the group's renewed focus on digital sales and bullish growth forecasts for the global sportswear market.

Oppenheimer said topline metrics at the group have "rebounded meaningful" and that its evolution towards online sales would enhance most aspects of its business model, including consumer connections and product innovation. It also sees the global sportswear market growing in the "annual mid-single digit range" over the near term, paced by growth in China and the Asia Pacific region.

"In our view, Nike represents an already dominant, legacy global brand that is now aggressively embracing the power of digital to enhance most facets of its business," the note said. "We look upon upbeat Street forecasts and guidance as at least do-able and supportive of a premium valuation."

Nike said last month that earnings its fiscal first quarter, which ended in August came in at 67 cents a share, topping the consensus forecast of 63 cents and rising 17.5% from the same period last year as sales rose 9.7% to just under $10 billion.

CFO Andy Campion said the group sees revenue growth in "the high single digits, albeit at the lower end of that range as operational upside will likely be somewhat offset by FX headwinds" for the 2019 fiscal year.

"We expect gross margin to expand 50 basis points or slightly greater, SG&A to grow in the high single digits and our effective tax rate to be in the mid teens," he added. "Other expense net of interest expense is now projected to be an expense of $100 million to $125 million."

Nike said its gross margin for the first quarter improved by 50 basis points to 44.2%, noting that selling and administrative expenses rose 7% to just over $3.1 billion.

North American revenues, which comprise around half of overall group sales, rose 5.6% to $4.145 billion. Rival Adidas AG (ADDYY) , however, said its last quarter sales in North America, where it is stealing market share from Nike on a consistent basis, rose 7% to just over $1.27 billion. Adidas' gross margin was also expanding at a faster clip, rising 2.2 percentage points to 523%.

In China, where the two sportswear giants are going head-to-head, Adidas second quarter sales, which comprise the three months ending in June, rose 27% from the same period last year while Nike's first quarter sales in China rose 24% to $1.379 billion.

Nike unveiled a new advertizing campaign in early September featuring Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL quarterback who inspired a series of nation-wide protests against police brutality and social injustice but courted controversy by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, earlier this month.

Nike chose Kaepernick, who is currently suing the National Football League for collusion after he failed to find a spot on any team roster despite leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, to lead the 30th anniversary of its iconic 'Just Do It' campaign that includes tennis superstar Serena Williams and skateboarder Lacey Baker. Kaepernick's participation was first made public via his official Twitter account with the phrase "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything."

Engagement from the campaign, despite initial controversy and criticism from President Donald Trump, has been nonetheless been solid: analysts estimate its Instagram account has gained 170,000 new followers and the online sames jumped by 31% over the three-day period in which the ad was released. Nike shares, too, have risen 6.5% since the ad's launch, adding around $6 billion to the group's market value.

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