* Operating profit of 303 mln euros vs consensus for 318 mln
* Shareholder set to criticise CEO at AGM on Thursday
* CEO sees Q1 as low point, expects World Cup boost
* Strong sales in emerging markets, own retail
* Adidas considers offers for Rockport brand (Adds details from conference call, fund manager comment)
By Emma Thomasson
BERLIN, May 6 (Reuters) - German sportswear company Adidas reported disappointing first-quarter results on Tuesday due to a big drop in sales at its TaylorMade golf business, but said a stronger second quarter was signalling a return to growth.
The world’s second-biggest sportswear firm, which has been losing ground in its home territory of western Europe to U.S. giant Nike, said operating profit fell almost a third to 303 million euros ($420 million), missing average analyst forecasts for 318 million.
It said 80 million euros of the decline was due to a poor quarter at TaylorMade due to a change in shipping cycles and a declining U.S. golfing market, and 50 million from negative currency movements - particularly the recent drop in the Russian rouble.
But Chief Executive Herbert Hainer said those factors masked strong performances in emerging markets and the company’s own retail network, which saw currency-neutral sales jump 22 percent, and confirmed the group’s guidance for a “high single-digit” increase in currency-neutral sales in 2014.
“While we still have to be wary of currencies and their effects on our financials, the first quarter will be the low point of our performance. I expect a strong second quarter to point the way forward,” he told a media conference call.
That may not be enough to mollify investors who have called for revolt at Thursday’s annual general meeting over Hainer’s failure to stop the advance of Nike, which extended its lead to take 15 percent of the global sportswear market in 2013 compared with 10.8 percent for Adidas, according to Euromonitor.
In addition to taking on Adidas on its home turf, Nike has challenged the German firm’s dominance in the soccer market, reporting a better than expected profit for the quarter ended Feb. 28, helped by a large jump in revenue in western Europe.
Ingo Speich, a fund manager with Union Investment which has a 0.89 percent stake in Adidas and is its tenth biggest investor, said he could not understand why the board decided in March to extended the contract of Hainer - in the job since 2001 - until 2017.
Adidas shares, which are already down 17 percent this year on concerns about its exposure to emerging market currencies and the Russian market, were up 0.1 percent at 1036 GMT, compared to a flat German blue-chip index.
Hainer said he was surprised by Speich’s comments as Adidas had performed well in 2013, but said he would speak to him at Thursday’s shareholders meeting and try to regain his support.
Stefan-Guenter Bauknecht, fund manager at Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management, Adidas’ sixth-biggest shareholder with a 1.45 percent stake, said he was prepared to give Hainer more time.
“The low point might have been reached. It is positive that the annual targets were not scrapped today, despite the weak quarterly results,” he said.
Hainer said football sales rose 27 percent in the first quarter ahead of the World Cup in Brazil starting next month, adding that sales of national shirts and the official match ball had been much higher than in the same period four years ago.
Confidence for future growth was reflected in an 18 percent increase in inventories on a currency-neutral basis.
However, Hainer said he was not happy with the group’s performance in North America, where currency-neutral sales fell 20 percent in the first quarter. But he expects to reverse the negative trend and grow the business for the full year.
More than half of the sales decline in North America was due to TaylorMade after a change in the business model to ship more products in the last quarter of the year rather than the first three months to give them more time to sell. That was compounded by a very cold start to 2014 on the U.S. East Coast.
Hainer said Adidas was holding onto its position as the market leader even though the number of rounds of golf played in the United States - the world’s biggest golfing market - fell 5 percent in the first quarter.
California-based TaylorMade, a brand Adidas bought in 1997 to help it compete with Nike, is the biggest maker of golf bags, clubs, clothing and shoes in the world, with sales of 1.3 billion in 2013 or almost 9 percent of the group total.
Meanwhile, Adidas is considering offers for its Rockport shoe brand, which saw sales rise 6 percent to 289 million euros in 2013 although they dipped in the first quarter.
Adidas was constantly being asked whether Rockport, which it acquired when it bought Reebok in 2006, was for sale, Hainer said, adding it had engaged investment bank Guggenheim Partners to help it analyse the market. ($1 = 0.7205 Euros) (Additional reporting by Kathrin Jones in Frankfurt and Joern Poltz in Munich; Editing by Sophie Walker)