Nike's Eyes on LeBron

Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) is one excited company. Tomorrow brings the new basketball shoe launch for No. 23. No, not that No. 23 -- the new 23, as in LeBron, or King James as he's been christened.

The television commercials, featuring comedian Bernie Mac, have been running, the online ads have been prolific, and Nike's ready to sell some Air Zoom Generations to hordes of hungry basketball fans. As a shareholder, I'm ready, too, for the continued LeBron onslaught.

Times are good at Nike. The athletic shoe and apparel company just reported an exceptionally strong second quarter. After multiple periods where it looked like Nike was losing its touch here at home, and was unable to convince customers to shell out for its highest-priced shoes, the domestic business is improving. Nike's relationship with Foot Locker (NYSE: FL  ) , which has been troubled since the retailer decided it wanted to devote less shelf space to Nike's high-end kicks, is also warming and should keep getting better over the next year.

The company's worldwide futures orders, which gauge demand through April 2004, were up 9.7%. That's an encouraging outlook. U.S. futures order increased 1%, marking a turnaround from the negative orders levels during the last six quarters.

The lack of U.S. growth has been a concern over the past several quarters, even as Nike was finding success overseas. In its Q2, though, total U.S. revenues rose 5%. Shoe sales were up 5%, and apparel revenues increased 8%. Average shoe selling prices here provide another measure of stateside strength, increasing in the mid-single digits with the mix of above-$100 offerings growing.

Nike's management characterized the current U.S. athletic footwear and apparel industry as the "healthiest" it's been in five years. With its stable of stars (including just-signed Serena Williams) behind it, and the company's technologically driven product innovations to spur it on, Nike's in a position to continue capitalizing on the good times.

For shareholders, monitoring the next two quarters' U.S. results will be important to make sure that this isn't just a blip. But for now, it's all eyes on King James and his much-hyped shoe debut.

Want to discuss the shoe giant? Check out our Nike discussion board.

LouAnn Lofton, as mentioned, owns shares of Nike.


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