Nike's fourth-quarter profit grew 15 percent, beating Wall Street's expectations, but the results were markedly lower than the profit growth...

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BEAVERTON, Ore. — Nike’s fourth-quarter profit grew 15 percent, beating Wall Street’s expectations, but the results were markedly lower than the profit growth that the world’s largest shoemaker reported in the first three quarters of its fiscal year.

The company also said first-quarter revenue growth would likely be below Wall Street’s view.

After the news, shares of Nike fell $3.58, or 4 percent, to close at $85.77 on the New York Stock Exchange. Analysts speculated that the drop in stock price was in part because Nike did not offer an earnings outlook for fiscal 2006, since it is reserving that guidance for an investors meeting today.

Fiscal fourth-quarter earnings rose 15 percent to $349.5 million, or $1.30 a share, from $305 million, or $1.13 a share, in the year-ago fourth quarter. On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for a profit of $1.27 a share in the latest quarter.

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But the results come on the heels of a 36 percent increase in year-on-year third-quarter profit, a 47 percent increase in second-quarter earnings and a 25 percent increase in first-quarter profit.

Sales for the latest quarter were $3.72 billion, up 7 percent from $3.49 billion the previous year and topping the mean analyst estimate of $3.69 billion.

For the full fiscal year, strong shoe sales worldwide boosted Nike profit to $1.21 billion, or $4.48 a share, up 28 percent. Annual sales increased 12 percent to $13.74 billion.

But looking forward, Nike Chief Financial Officer Don Blair said revenue growth in the first quarter should be toward the low end of a range between 7 percent and 9 percent, implying revenue at the low end of a range between $3.81 billion and $3.88 billion.