Nike Inc posted a net profit that beat analyst expectations, fueled by fewer clearance sales of merchandise and improving sales around the world, sending its shares up more than 3 percent.

The world's largest sports apparel and footwear maker is gearing up for the World Cup in South Africa this summer and investing more in marketing to lure soccer fans. The company has said that sales would revive in 2010 after a year of sluggish business in mature markets and even fast-growing markets such as China.

The company posted a 6 percent gain on a constant currency basis in futures orders -- delivery of goods to retailers through July -- that beat Wall Street expectations.

That's the first thing people look at as a headline, said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Thomas Shaw. That's strong and that's putting them ahead of the direction that Puma
and Adidas , their two biggest competitors, were indicating sales would be for 2010.

Net income in the third quarter ended February 28 was $496 million, or $1.01 cents per share, double the $244 million, or 50 cents per share, in the year-earlier period, when a $241 million charge related to its Umbro acquisition crimped profit.

Analysts, on average, had been expecting earnings of 89 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Excluding the year-ago charge, net income would have increased 2 percent, the company said.

Revenue jumped 7 percent to $4.7 billion. Excluding currency fluctuations, revenue edged up 2 percent.

By region, revenue in North America -- the company's largest market -- inched up 1 percent and fell 8 percent in Central and Eastern Europe.

Revenue in China and Japan rose 10 percent and fell 7 percent, respectively. Nike posted a 43 percent revenue gain in its emerging markets region, which includes Brazil.

Non-Nike branded units, which include Converse, Hurley and Umbro, posted a 13 percent revenue gain.

Orders for the delivery of goods through July rose 9 percent, or 6 percent excluding currency fluctuations.

That was well above the 1 percent decline on a constant-currency basis in Nike's fiscal second quarter.

Nike shares rose 3.5 percent to $73.35 after closing at $70.88 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Editing by Edwin Chan and Andre Grenon)