Wall Street analysts bullish over Nike's digital growth, look past margin weakness

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(Reuters) – Wall Street analysts were upbeat about Nike Inc’s (N:) long-term growth, encouraged by the sportswear maker’s robust online sales and strength in China that helped overcome slowing demand in North America, its biggest market.

At least eight brokerages boosted their price target on the Dow-component’s stock on Friday, with Deutsche Bank (DE:) making the most bullish move by raising it to $120, above Nike’s current share price of about $100.

“Given Nike’s significant scale and IT spend advantage, coupled with its early lead in digital, we remain very bullish on the company’s ability to continue to maintain its momentum in digital,” said Evercore ISI analyst Omar Saad.

Still, shares of the company were down about 1.5% in early trade as investors worried about its weak margins and growing competition in North America from Adidas (DE:), Skechers (N:) and VF Corp’s (N:) Vans.

In efforts to win market share from rivals, Nike has collaborated with celebrities, launched limited edition sneakers, spent on technology and increased marketing around major sporting events.

The company’s sales have also got a boost in recent years from its “Consumer Direct Offense” strategy that includes focus on online sales, product launches and supply chain improvements to bring new products to shelves faster.

Overall, quarterly sales rose a better-than-expected 10.2%, with its famous Jordan brand hitting $1 billion in sales for the first time. North America sales rose 5%, but came in slightly below expectations.

The company’s margins came under pressure in the quarter from increased investments, but several analysts attributed much of the weakness to currency fluctuations.

“Despite (the weak margins), Nike remains the envy of the rest of the sector,” Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Trussell said.

“With the product pipeline robust today and still ramping, heading towards Tokyo Olympics 2020, we see above-average top- and bottom-line gains ahead.”

At least 23 of 31 brokerages rate the stock “buy” or higher, 6 “hold” and 2 “sell” or lower.

Shares of Nike were at $99.65 in early trading. The stock has risen 36% this year, outperforming the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s () 22% rise.

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