Shares of Nike ( NKE) rose Tuesday after the company said third-quarter earnings will come in ahead of Wall Street's projections because of an expected increase in total sales.

In the quarter ended Feb. 29, the company expects to earn 71 cents to 74 cents a share, compared with analysts' consensus for 64 cents a share. The company earned 47 cents a share in the prior-year third quarter.

Shares of the company were lately rising $2.14, or 2.9%, at $76.63, surpassing their 52-week high of $74.95 reached on March 5.

Revenue in the third quarter is seen up 20% over the prior year's revenue of $2.4 billion, which represents an increase of 2% in constant currencies. The company said prior-year revenue was unusually low due to the timing of shipments related to a supply chain implementation in its European business.

"Nike's businesses in the U.S. and Asia Pacific regions, combined with favorable European currency exchange rates, are resulting in very healthy revenue growth for the company," said Chief Executive Philip H. Knight. "We remain optimistic that the momentum we are seeing in our business is setting the stage for continued profitable growth through the remainder of fiscal 2004."

The company's announcement caused several brokerages to up their estimates. For example, Wells Fargo Securities analyst John Shanley said he now expects the company to earn 73 cents a share, up from a previous prediction of 62 cents a share. He also boosted his price target on the company to $83 from $73.

"We believe that the higher third-quarter sales contribution was driven by additional orders from Foot Locker, Nike's largest customer, which we believe amounted to more than $100 million above previous bookings," Shanley said. He also cited an increase in bookings from retailers in Europe and Asia Pacific as the Summer Olympics in Greece and the European Football Championship soccer game get closer.

Meanwhile, Dennis Rosenberg from Credit Suisse First Boston left his third-quarter estimate at 68 cents a share, but raised his target price on Nike to $90 from $80. The analyst also raised his full-year 2004 earnings estimate to $3.45 a share, from $3.40 a share.

"We expect strength in the U.S. and Asia to continue and believe sales in Europe in fiscal-year 2005 will get a boost from the European Championship in June and the Olympics in August," Rosenberg wrote in a research note.

For the fourth quarter, the company reiterated its expectation for a high-single-digit revenue increase, year-over-year expansion of gross margins, and continued investment in selling, general and administrative expenses in excess of revenue growth.

Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike will release its third-quarter results Thursday, March 18.

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