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Takeaway: Nike is making ailing US retailers as well as its global competitors (aka Adidas) look downright silly.

This note was originally published September 26, 2013 at 20:28 in Retail

What’s there to say about Nike’s quarter? We’re surrounded left and right by weakness in US retail, and yet Nike comes out and prints a quarter of Champions.

NKE: Adidas Hates These Guys - nike

NKE printed top line growth of 8%, and an acceleration in futures to +10%, with a nice balance of 7% growth in units, and 3% increase in price. We saw +120bp improvement in gross margins, which was far ahead of our above-consensus estimate – as pricing initiatives are being met with very little resistance, and raw materials costs are coming in below plan. SG&A was flat for the quarter, which is largely due to comparisons against event spending vs last year. But still, the growth algorithm is inarguable…sales +8%, gross profit +11%, and EBIT +40%. EPS came in at $0.86, well ahead of our estimate of $0.82 and the Street at $0.78. Inventory looked great as well, growing 6% -- below the rate of sales for the 5th quarter in a row.

You might say that Nike naturally sidesteps the US retail malaise due to the fact that it is a global company. But then why did Adidas – its closest global competitor that has a nearly identical scope, reach and mix outside of the United States – put out an announcement on September 20 taking down expectations for the quarter and the year due to weak sales globally, particularly Russia (which Nike highlighted as a strength this quarter), and golf (this was also weak for Nike, to be fair). This juxtaposition simply highlights how well Nike is managed relative to its peers.

We’re taking up our estimate to $3.25 for the year (20% EPS growth). We think that Nike is being conservative with its expectation for only 50bps of improvement in gross margins for the year, and although we’ll start to see more normalized levels of SG&A spending, the reality is that a high-single-digit growth rate in sales with 100bp+ in gross margin improvement is nothing to shake a stick at. Mid-high teens EPS growth on top of 25% ROIC makes Nike every bit worthy of its 20 forward multiple (and then some). Nike’s still a core holding any way we cut it.

We’ll return with a more thorough deep dive after Nike’s analyst meeting in two weeks.