Nike shares stumble as rivals close gap in US race

With shares and confidence surging, Nike was on top of the world in 2015. The company was at an “all-time high,” chief executive officer Mark Parker said at an investor day that October.

He predicted sales would jump 63% by 2020 to total $50bn (€42.5bn) annually. “It’s clear that Nike is a growth company,” he said.

Two years later, his claim is anything but clear. Increased competition, led by Adidas, has knocked the world’s largest sports brand off course and muddied its outlook. 

Since Parker made the forecast, Nike’s shares are down 17% — erasing $22bn in market value. Sales growth has been uneven, slowing to just 0.1% last quarter.

Later today, Parker and his management team will hold another investor day at the company’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. This time, they’re trying to convince Wall Street that the vision is still alive.

“It went from a company with all these tailwinds and firing all cylinders to having headwinds and not firing on close to all cylinders,” said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst for Edward Jones. 

“They are going to have reset expectations,” he said. If Mr Parker and his management team are scaling back their aspirations, they’ve shown few signs of it. 

They’ve told investors that they are changing some aspects of the business — like speeding up footwear production — and betting that investors will give them time because of their track record.

That record includes the 2010 to 2015 period in which Nike dominated the US — the company’s largest and oldest market — with average annual sales gains of 10%. 

There were no acquisitions — just organic growth that led to a tripling of the company’s stock price. But Mr Parker, a Nike lifer who became CEO in 2006, didn’t foresee that the boom in athletic footwear and apparel would fizzle. 

He also didn’t predict that the rapid growth of sporty attire — what many call “athleisure” — would simultaneously lure a slew of nonathletic brands to the segment. 

Fashion houses like Burberry and Jimmy Choo piled in on the high end, while mass retailers like Target started their own lines aimed at shoppers looking for affordable options. 

Adidas, which had struggled for years in the US, also came on strong and managed to close its coolness gap with Nike by focusing on casual looks and pushing partnerships with celebrities like Kanye West.

“2015 was an extraordinary year and really was an outlier in terms of growth rate in apparel and footwear,” Matt Powell, an analyst for NPD Group, said of the US market. 

“Everybody thought that was going to go on forever, and it didn’t,” Mr Powel said.



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