Nike (NKE, Financial) has not been rewarding investors as of late as its shares are down nearly 8% year-to-date. The iconic maker of athletic footwear and apparel has underperformed the S&P 500, which has risen 11.31% so far in 2023.
This weak stock price performance can be attributed to two key factors in my opinion: declining profitability and a rich valuation. Nike's shares pose the dilemma of growth versus value. As interest rates in the U.S. are rising, simply focusing on growth stocks and ignoring valuation may not be the best investment decision, as Nike is demonstrating now.
Nike has solid revenue growth and an excellent dividend payout history
Investors in Nike may not be glad with year-to-date stock price performance, but at least there has been an overall trend of growth in sales. A thorough analysis for the period 2010-2023 shows that with a few exceptions during 2020 and early 2021, Nike has very stable and rising revenue growth history. For example, Nike's annual revenue for 2022 was $46.71 billion, a 4.88% increase from 2021, which was much higher than the $37.403 billion in revenue recorded in 2019.
The latest third-quarter fiscal 2023 earnings showed revenue was up 14% compared to the year-ago quarter, or 19% on a currency-neutral basis, Direct sales increased 17% to $5.3 billion on a reported basis (22% currency-neutral), Brand Digital sales increased 20% (24% currency-neutral) and Wholesale revenues grew 12% (18% currency-neutral).
Nike has consistently increased its returns to shareholders, with 21 consecutive years of increasing dividend payouts. In the third quarter of fiscal 2023, Nike paid dividends of $528 million, an increase of 9% from the prior-year quarter, and repurchased shares worth $1.5 billion. Share repurchases are planned to continue as Nike approved a program of share repurchases worth $18 billion in June 2022, and for the quarter that ended on March 2023, the company had spent about $3.4 billion, or about 19% of its capital allocated for share repurchases. The dividend yield is a modest 1.26% as the share price has grown faster than its dividend.
Nike has a problem that is reflected by lower profitability
For the third quarter of fiscal 2023, Nike reported that its gross margin decreased 330 basis points to 43.3% and that diluted earnings per share for the quarter were $0.79, down 9% year-over-year. The gross margin, net profit and operating profit margins have all been headed lower over the past four consecutive quarters.
Assuming investors choose to focus mostly on the net profit margin for profitability, the decline is evident. For the quarter that ended in February 2022, the net profit margin was 13.06%. It then fell in the following quarters to 12.94%, 11.96%, 11.47% and 10.82%.
For a stock with a declining bottom line, the valuation has become rich.
On the bright side, Nike has a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.61, which is considered very healthy looking at its balance sheet.
Nike’s economic moat looks sustainable
Despite the financial woes, Nike has a very strong economic moat in my view, primarily related to a strong brand. Nike has built one of the most recognizable and valuable brands in the world. The brand is associated with quality, innovation and performance. Nike's brand strength enables it to command premium pricing and maintain customer loyalty.
Nike has established a vast global distribution network, including both physical retail stores and e-commerce platforms. The company has a presence in numerous countries and leverages its network to reach a wide range of customers, from athletes and sports enthusiasts to casual wear consumers. Nike is renowned for its focus on product innovation and design. The company invests heavily in research and development to create technologically advanced and aesthetically appealing products. This commitment to innovation allows Nike to continually introduce new and improved products, giving it an edge over its competitors.
Nike has formed strategic partnerships and endorsements with some of the world's top athletes, teams and sports organizations. Collaborations with athletes like Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Cristiano Ronaldo, among many others, have helped Nike maintain a strong presence in various sports and enhance its brand image. Nike benefits from economies of scale, which allow it to achieve cost advantages through bulk purchasing, efficient production and distribution. The company's extensive supply chain management capabilities help it optimize manufacturing and sourcing processes, ensuring timely delivery and cost control.
What about marketing and advertising? Nike is known for its impactful marketing campaigns that resonate with consumers. The company invests significant resources in advertising and promotional activities to create emotional connections with its target audience. This marketing prowess helps Nike stay top-of-mind and reinforce its brand image.
Lastly, Nike has successfully engaged with its customers through various means, including social media, mobile applications and membership programs. By building relationships with its customers and providing personalized experiences, Nike strengthens its moat and fosters brand loyalty.
While Nike enjoys a strong economic moat, it still faces competition from other sportswear brands. However, the company's consistent focus on innovation, brand strength, distribution and customer engagement has helped it maintain a dominant position in the industry.
The bottom line
Don't get me wroing, I love Nike’s products for their quality, design and premium features. What about its stock? Unfortunately I do not believe the stock is attractive at this point due to the high valuation and declining profitability. The company has addressed risks like product input costs and elevated freight costs, but I would wait to see an improvement at least in profitability.