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Nike declines after athletic giant gives bleak US outlook

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Nike shares declined early Wednesday after the company squelched any hope of a quick turnaround at its ailing domestic operations.

[NEW YORK] Nike shares declined early Wednesday after the company squelched any hope of a quick turnaround at its ailing domestic operations.

The world's biggest sportswear maker expects North American sales to decline again this quarter, following a three per cent dip in the region last quarter. Nike's Converse business also will drop in the current period.

The slump has forced Nike to rely more heavily on overseas growth, especially in China. International sales - along with an aggressive cost-cutting plan - helped the company post first-quarter profit that topped estimates on Tuesday.

Chief executive officer Mark Parker vowed to ignite global growth by "innovative products and the most personal, digitally connected experiences in our industry."

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But it's hard to tell how soon that vision will revive sales at home.

Nike expects its annual sales to rise by a percentage in the mid-single digits, up from US$34.4 billion last year. Its margins will narrow in the latest current period, at about the same rate as the previous three months, Nike said on a conference call.

Nike fell as much as 4 per cent to US$51.53 in trading before US exchanges opened Wednesday.

The stock had gained 5.7 per cent this year through Tuesday's close, after ranking as the worst-performing member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2016.

Nike is contending with other distractions as it tries to turn around its US operations. The company was pushed into the unfamiliar position of taking sides against a sitting US president when Donald Trump harshly criticised NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to highlight inequality.

Even as Nike backed players' right to not stand for the anthem, US federal authorities announced a probe into criminal influence in NCAA basketball.

While the charges involved rival Adidas, one former Nike employee was named by prosecutors. The company said it believes in "fair and ethical play - both in business and sports".

With major US retailers faltering over the past 18 months, Nike has been trying to generate more revenue through its own stores and websites.

It's also pursuing new channels for distribution, including inking a deal this year to sell lower-end items through Amazon.com.

Earnings were 57 US cents a share in the first fiscal quarter, which ended Aug 31. Analysts projected 48 US cents on average. Revenue amounted to US$9.07 billion, slightly short of estimates.

This decline was offset by a surge of 5 per cent in Latin America and Pacific Asia, while Chinese sales advanced 9 per cent.

Nike disclosed on Monday that it would stop reporting future orders, which investors had used as a measure of upcoming demand.

Because selling directly to consumers was becoming a bigger portion of its revenue - last fiscal year it reached 28 per cent - so-called "futures" were no longer an accurate portrayal of its business, the company said. This decision also came as orders were weakening.

After years of dominance, Nike is facing heavier competition from its traditional rivals, as well as non-athletic brands pushing into workout clothing. To stay nimble, the Beaverton, Oregon-based company eliminated two per cent of its global workforce this year, or about 1,400 jobs, with half the cuts coming at its headquarters.

US sneaker retailers such as Foot Locker and Finish Line say a lack of innovation and catchy styles from manufacturers have depressed demand.

Those critiques fall squarely on Nike, which has said it needs to develop shoes faster to keep up with consumer tastes that shift more rapidly than ever. The company is now investing to accelerate its supply chain while making more frequent tweaks to products - updating colours, prints and materials.

The company maintained an aura of confidence earlier this year, with Parker saying its innovation pipeline would get it back on track.

Nike reiterated on Tuesday that its focus will be selling more goods directly to consumers, especially as the US retail market suffers.

Revenue by that measure rose 11 per cent last quarter, including 19 per cent online.

That will include selling through Amazon, which Parker described as being "excited about the possibilities".

With sales now expected to decline in the first half of the fiscal year, Mr Parker reaffirmed his confidence that its innovation pipeline would get it back on track.

"We are very bullish on what's coming," Mr Parker said.

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