Nike scored a decisive victory among sportswear manufacturers recently when it sprinted ahead of analysts’ fourth-quarter earnings estimates. On the heels of a world cup win by Nike-clad team Brazil, the world’s largest athletic footwear and apparel maker garnered analyst praise for cleaning up its inventory problems and its prediction of annual sales growth in the high single digits.

After the company posted better than expected earnings on June 27, a number of analysts boosted their recommendations and target prices on the stock.

‘Results indicate that Nike is building a more profitable business model, having met its annual earnings target in fiscal 2002, admittedly a challenging year for the company as well as the industry’, said Carol Murray of bankers Salomon Smith Barney.

Nike posted a 29% increase in net income for the quarter ended May 31 to US$208.4 million (US77c a share) from US$162.7 million (US60c) a year ago.

Predicting the shares will vault even higher on expectations of a recovering footwear market, 12 analysts polled by First Call/Thomson Financial have set an average share price target of US$67.42.