Helped by the weak dollar, a tax benefit and strong international growth in Europe and Asia, Nike Inc late Thursday (20 September) posted a whopping 51% jump in first quarter profit and raised its fiscal 2008 outlook.

The world's largest athletic shoe and clothes maker also said it was exploring a sale of its Nike Bauer Hockey business, which makes hockey equipment and apparel, since it no longer fits with the company's long-term growth objectives.

In the quarter ended 31 August, the Beaverton, Oregon-based firm registered net income of US$569.7m, or $1.12 a diluted share, compared with the $377.2, or $0.74, that made it to the bottom line in the first quarter of 2007. The results include a $0.20 per share tax-related benefit.

Sales in the quarter hit $4.7bn, 11% above the $4.2bn achieved in the same period last year. Changes in currency exchange rates increased revenue growth by 3 percentage points for the quarter.

Mark Parker, Nike's president and CEO, said: "We're off to a strong start as our first quarter results reflect the power of our brands as well as the strength and diversification of the Nike Inc portfolio.

"We have an aggressive growth plan to achieve $23bn in revenue by fiscal year 2011, and we're well on our way."

Sales increases were highest in the Asia Pacific region, where they rose 22% to $630.8m from $518.4m a year ago. Next was the EMEA (Europe/Middle East/Africa) region, where sales were up 16% to $1,477.7m from $1,270.9m.

In the Americas region, sales increased 15% to $279.5m, an improvement from $242.5m in last year's quarter. In the US, however, revenues rose just 2% to $1,638.4m, with apparel sales slipping 1%.

Other businesses, a category that includes Cole Haan, Converse, Hurley International and Exeter Brands, tallied a 12% sales increase to $628.7m.

Gross margins expanded to 44.8% compared to 44.1% for the same period last year. Futures orders for footwear and apparel jumped 11.5%, with $5.9bn scheduled for delivery from September 2007 through January 2008.

"We are focused on investing our resources where we will achieve the greatest returns, both within the Nike brand and within a strong portfolio of complementary affiliate brands," Parker added.

This focus does not include Nike Bauer Hockey, and the company expects to sell the unit within the current fiscal year.

Parker said: "We're confident it's the right choice for our company as we maximise our opportunities and drive toward our long-term growth targets. Given Nike Bauer's market leading position, we believe we will be able to effectively execute this transaction."