Footwear maker Nike (NYSE:NKE) reported third-quarter earnings Thursday evening. There weren't any exciting developments to report, but business as usual is exciting if you have a track record as impressive as Nike's.

Fellow Fool Brendan Matthews recently highlighted the characteristics that make Nike a contender for ultimate Rule Maker, meaning it has a leading brand, products with mass appeal and repeat purchase potential, and strong historical performance with substantial cash-generating capabilities.

The latest quarter continued Nike's run of double-digit bottom-line growth as diluted earnings per share advanced 10.5%. Return on invested capital also hovers around 20%, which is as high as you'll find at a company and means Nike generates plenty of capital to buy back shares and increase its dividend, which has nearly tripled over the past five years.

Nike is also well-diversified across a number of product categories and geographies. The Nike brand itself drives the entire company, and footwear still accounts for the bulk of revenue (more than 53% in fiscal 2006). But Nike has grown to sell significant amounts of apparel and sports equipment, and its "other" operating business, which includes Cole Haan casual footwear and Converse, is among the fastest-growing areas. Finally, more than 60% of sales are now made outside of the U.S., with Europe and Asia accounting for most of the global focus.

So far so good regarding the past, but what can Fools expect going forward? Glad you asked: Back in February, Nike said it plans to grow to $23 billion in sales by fiscal 2011, up from $15 billion in fiscal 2006. That's 50% growth in five years, demonstrating that management doesn't intend to take its foot off the gas pedal.

The stock has run 44% from lows reached last summer, leaving it trading at slightly more than 19 times expectations for the coming year. That's not a crazy multiple to pay for such a consistent grower, and for some reason a number of smaller peers trade at higher valuations. For instance, Skechers (NYSE:SKX), K-Swiss (NASDAQ:KSWS), and Deckers Outdoor (NASDAQ:DECK) trade for more than 20 times forward projections, with Wolverine World Wide (NYSE:WWW) and Steve Madden (NASDAQ:SHOO) at 18 times and 15 times, respectively. It used to be investors had to pay up for larger, more stable companies, but not in the footwear industry these days, it seems.

There may be better stock-buying opportunities down the road, as Nike operates in a business that is susceptible to fickle consumers and even more volatile fashion trends, but if it can keep growing the way it did the past five years, the shares will continue to reward patient investors.

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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann is long shares of Nike but has no financial interest in any other company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy. Feel free to email Ryan with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.