* Q1 loss/shr $0.01 vs est of $0.04 loss/shr
* Asia Pac operating profit up 13 pct, N. America falls 91 pct
* Direct-to-consumer sales up 13 pct
* Class A shares rise as much as 12 pct (Adds details, updates shares)
By Jessica Kuruthukulangara
April 27 (Reuters) - Sportswear maker Under Armour Inc posted a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss, helped by a jump in sales at its retail outlets - a higher margin business than wholesale - and a bump in profit in Asia Pacific, the only bright spot.
Class A shares of Under Armour, which is known for its Stephen Curry basketball gear and Bandit running shoes, rose as much as 12 percent on Thursday.
Sales in the company’s direct-to-consumer business, which accounted for nearly a third of its revenue, rose 13 percent in the quarter ended March 31. Operating income in the Asia Pacific business rose 13 percent as well, making the region the company’s biggest profit generator.
Under Armour, which had wooed investors with its quick-paced growth until a few quarters ago, however, posted its first-ever quarterly net loss as operating income from North America slumped nearly 91 percent in the first quarter ended March 31.
“Under Armour beat what had become an incredibly negative investor bar into this earnings with a high short interest,” Instinet analyst Simeon Siegel told Reuters.
Under Armour has been battling intense competition from Germany’s Adidas AG, which has pledged to keep investing heavily in the key U.S. market.
Making matters worse, athletic leisure wear is showing signs of aging amid possible shopper fatigue with the now decade-old fashion category.
Under Armour’s net sales for the March quarter grew 6.6 percent to $1.12 billion, its slowest increase in nearly eight years.
Sales of the Curry 3 line of basketball shoes, released late last year, were softer than expected, Chief Executive Kevin Plank said on an earnings call.
Up to Wednesday’s close, Under Armour’s class A stock had lost nearly a third of its value this year, making it the worst performer on the S&P 500 index.
The company reported a net loss of $2.3 million, or 1 cent per share. Analysts had expected a loss of 4 cents per share.
First-quarter gross margin fell 70 basis points to 45.2 percent but came in ahead of analysts estimates of 44.8 percent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The beat also reflects a 7 percent rise in sales of Under Armour’s high-margin apparel business, which outpaced a 2 percent growth in footwear, Siegel said.
Lack of Under Armour footwear innovation and increased competitor innovation, including Nike Inc’s VaporMax, has pointed to the brand losing consumer resonance, FBR analysts wrote in a pre-earnings note.
While Nike has also been limping under Adidas’s onslaught and reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue last month, its recently launched running shoes VaporMax is a big success.
Reporting by Jessica Kuruthukulangara and Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Sayantani Ghosh