Nike ( NKE) reported third-quarter earnings Tuesday that trounced analysts' estimates, as another big revenue jump in South America helped offset slightly weaker margins. Nike earned $325.8 million, or $1.24 a share, in the quarter, compared with $273.4 million, or $1.01 a share, a year ago. Analysts had pegged earnings in the latest quarter at $1.10 a share. Despite a 3-percentage point handicap from currency translation, sales rose 9% to $3.61 billion, beating the Thomson First Call consensus by $100 million. By region, third-quarter sales rose 14% from a year ago to $1.44 billion in the U.S.; rose 13% to $532 million in the Asia Pacific; rose 41% to $203.1 million in the Americas; and fell 5% to $980 million in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The company also got a big contribution from businesses outside its core Nike lines of footwear, apparel and equipment. Revenue from this portfolio, which includes Converse, Nike Golf, Nike Bauer Hockey and Cole Haan, rose 17% to $454 million in the third quarter. Gross margins were 43.6% in the third quarter compared with 44.1% percent last year. The company's effective tax rate rose to 35.7% from 33.9%. Nike's future orders are carefully watched as a harbinger of performance. The company said worldwide future orders for footwear and clothes that are scheduled for delivery in its fourth quarter rose 2.9% from a year ago, to $5.4 billion. Excluding currency translation, future orders rose by 5.4% from last year, slightly below analyst expectations. By region, futures orders for the U.S. rose 6%, while they declined by 2% in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Orders rose 5% in Asia Pacific and 10% in the Americas. "We're very pleased with the performance of the Nike brand and our Nike Inc. portfolio, both for the quarter and year to date," the company said. "The strength of our product pipeline, brand portfolio and global reach is enabling us to balance continued challenges in markets such as Western Europe and Japan with strong momentum in other key markets and regions. This, combined with our ability to manage expenses, enabled us to deliver on our long-term goal of sustainable, profitable growth."