Investors are more interested in selling Nike (NYSE: NKE) stock than in buying it these days. Over the past 12 months, the sports apparel titan's shares have sat out of the 20% rally in the broader market. In fact, Nike is one of just a few stocks in the Dow that have lost ground over that timeframe.
There are good reasons to let go of your Nike stock, especially if your investing thesis appears broken and you've identified a better place to put those funds to work. Just don't sell because you're sure Nike's business is beyond repair.
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1. The growth story is over
Nike recently closed the books on an underwhelming fiscal year. For the second straight time, the retailer saw slowing growth in its core U.S. market. Sales were up just 3% in that division, compared to an 8% spike in the prior year.
It might be tempting to project that trend deep into the future, but it's far more likely that Nike recaptures its market-beating revenue growth pace from here. After all, the U.S. segment, which has been rocked by specialty retailer store closures and slowing customer traffic, stabilized last quarter. Revenue ticked up slightly, profits rose 5%, and gross profit margin improved thanks to leaner inventory levels.
Additionally, since Nike gets most of its revenue from international markets, its overall growth outlook remains bright. That's a key advantage it has over rival Under Armour (NYSE: UAA) (NYSE: UA), which has to invest heavily right now to diversify away from the U.S. segment. Under Armour is making progress here, with the segment spiking nearly 60% last quarter. The segment isn't nearly big enough to lift overall growth, though, so Nike's 9% sales gain projection for 2017 is about even with the 10% that Under Armour is forecasting.
2. E-commerce will crush margins
The worry that e-commerce rivals will destroy Nike's profits looks overblown, too. Sure, consumers are flocking toward digital shopping, and that trend pressured profit margins last year as retailers cut prices to keep inventory moving. Yet this sales channel represents a substantial long-term positive for Nike.
Investors don't have to project far into the future to estimate what that might look like, either. Nike's direct-to-consumer sales soared 18% last year. And, because these transactions generate about twice the revenue and much higher profits than purchases through the wholesale business, they made a big impact on results. The segment represents just one-third of the business today but is responsible for two-thirds of Nike's growth.
3. Nike's moat is toast
The recent combination of slowing sales growth and falling profit margins has many investors concerned that Nike's brand strength is impaired. It would be a big mistake to underestimate this company's competitive position, though.
Nike spends over $3 billion each year in marketing and advertising to support its global brands, which is roughly two thirds of Under Armour's entire sales base. It has a powerful innovation process that continues to deliver hits, including the recent Air VaporMax and ZoomX shoe platforms that sparked strong sales growth last quarter despite the premium prices attached to the products.
Finally, the management team has an aggressive operating approach that has led them to launch several key initiatives aimed at improving the business over the next year. These include a rapid shift in resources toward digital selling, slicing the time-to-market for product launches, and building bigger leadership positions in core international geographies like China. Nike will likely show mixed short-term results from these efforts, but its broader outlook appears as strong as ever.
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Demitrios Kalogeropoulos owns shares of Nike and Under Armour (A and C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Nike and Under Armour (A and C shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.