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SBUX – WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH?

It was a little over a year ago that SBUX first announced Howard Schultz’s return to the CEO position and the company’s new transformation agenda, including slowing the pace of U.S. growth and closing underperforming store units, to renew its focus on store-level unit economics. There was much anticipation for the 1Q08 earnings call that followed shortly after that initial announcement to learn the magnitude of the changes. On that 1Q08 call, SBUX reduced its 2008 U.S. new unit opening targets and announced the closure of 100 underperforming stores. Additionally, the company said that it would open less than 1000 stores in the U.S. in 2009.

Here we are one year later and SBUX has since increased those 100 expected closures to 961 with 800 in the U.S. (384 of which are already closed) and 161 internationally (including the 61 stores that have already closed in Australia). Regarding new unit growth, SBUX now expects a decline in net new stores in the U.S. in 2009 following all of the expected closures. Unfortunately, these significant downward revisions to store growth and store closures did not come at once. Instead, we have had to agonize through these additional cuts each quarter since the transformation agenda was announced. I thought SBUX’s initial announcement last January was reactionary as comparable sales trends had already started to decelerate and yesterday’s revisions are once again reactionary. That being said, no one expected this quarter to be good. We did not need CEO Howard Schultz to remind us that unemployment, jobless claims and the number of housing foreclosures have increased while consumer confidence has fallen to an all-time low to know that.

Even if the announced changes continue to be reactionary, they are the right moves for the company going forward, and they prove that CEO Howard Schultz is willing to make the difficult and necessary decisions to improve SBUX’s profitability. The fact that Mr. Schultz said he has a “Plan to Win” (MCD called its 2003 turnaround plan the “Plan to Win”) and that SBUX is going to begin offering some type of value breakfast combo meals at a national price point in March show that he no longer thinks SBUX is immune to the issues facing his competitors.

And, these store closures, slowed unit growth, headcount reductions and increased focus on managing costs are already yielding results. Although same-store sales declined 9% on a consolidated basis (-10% in the U.S. and -3% internationally), the company’s EBIT margins improved on a sequential basis to 8.3% in 1Q09 (excluding restructuring and impairment charges) from 4.5% in 4Q08. Although margins declined nearly 380 bps YOY, an 8.3% margin is not a bad number for a restaurant company in today’s environment. Yesterday’s, we also learned that the company is expecting to yield an additional $100 million in fiscal 2009 cost savings, primarily from additional reductions in non-store positions and store closures, bringing the total expected savings in fiscal 2009 to $500 million. Margins should improve throughout the year as the company’s savings are expected to ramp up in each subsequent quarter from $75 million in 1Q, to $100 million in 2Q, to $150 million in 3Q and $175 million in 4Q. The comparisons get significantly easier as we trend through the year as well.

Predicting when SBUX’s top-line results will improve is much more difficult. These comparisons also get easier but easy comparisons no longer seem to matter when it comes to same-store sales growth in this environment. In the short-term, investor sentiment will be influenced by SBUX’s top-line results, but the company is now well-positioned for the long-term and is managing the aspects of its business it can control. We have already seen an improvement in margins and the company’s current cost initiatives are expected to lead to increased savings in 2010 and beyond. It should also not go unnoticed that even with comparable sales down 9%, SBUX generated over $100 million in free cash flow in the quarter, which on an annualized basis is a 6% cash flow yield, also not a bad number in today’s environment.

HOT: THE CREDIT IMPLICATIONS OF OUR FORECAST

Yesterday we posted a note “HOT: THE MOTHER OF ALL ESTIMATE CUTS” discussing a potential 50% earnings cut in 2009 consensus estimates. In this note we address the credit implications of our projections. If our numbers are close to being correct, Starwood will likely violate its 4.5x Consolidated Leverage covenant in the 2Q09 and certainly breach this covenant in the 3Q09 when Consolidated Leverage could peak at 5.2x.

Despite the breach, bondholders shouldn’t necessarily lose a lot of sleep over Starwood’s credit situation. Although a covenant violation is never ideal, at approximately 5x leverage the banks will give Starwood an amendment (6th time on this facility) and simply increase their thin credit spread to something more juicy. At our TTM Consolidated EBITDA calculation of $765MM at 3Q09 and only $1.9BN at the bank and secured debt level, the banks are also sleeping well at night knowing that leverage through their paper is only 2.5x.

A shareholder, however, shouldn’t sleep so soundly. If HOT breaches, cost of borrowing will skyrocket and EPS and cash flow will go down, again. The company does have some trophy assets that could be sold but the number of potential buyers has dwindled. It’s not exactly a seller’s market. Buying back discounted bonds is also an option to help de-lever.


HOT must do something to avoid a Q2/Q3 covenant breach

EYE ON AUSTRALIA: CPI

The Bureau of Statistics released Q4 CPI data today, with a -0.3% quarter-over-quarter level that confirms the trend indicated by last month’s Melbourne Institute Inflation Gauge data. This confirmation sets the stage for Governor Stevens to cut rates sharply when the Reserve Bank’s board meets next Tuesday.

Australia is now showing clear signs that it is slipping into its first recession in two decades, after the economy grew 0.1% in Q3. Currently the mood down under is growing increasingly grim with consumer confidence declines in January and a business sentiment index level for December that marked the twelfth consecutive decline. A two-year high unemployment rate of 4.5% is expected to increase over the next two quarters.

Currently median forecast come in at a cut of 100 basis points, taking the benchmark rate down to 3.25% while leaving Stevens with several bullets left to use. We continue to think that Stevens and his team are doing an admirable job –but the external issues faced by the Australian economy cannot be overcome by deft policy alone.

Matthew Hedrick
Analyst

Andrew Barber
Director

Hedgeye Statistics

The total percentage of successful long and short trading signals since the inception of Real-Time Alerts in August of 2008.

  • LONG SIGNALS 80.64%
  • SHORT SIGNALS 78.61%

EYE ON THE IMF

The IMF released its updated “World Economic Outlook Update” today, with revised global projections for 2009 and 2010. In it, IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard states bluntly, “we now expect the global economy to come to a virtual halt.” While our macro view is not as bearish as Blanchard’s holistically, we questions if some estimates are padded, in particular India.

A few main call-outs from the Report: World growth is projected to fall to 0.5% in 2009, the lowest rate since WWII, a downward revision of about 1.7% from the November 2008 WEO update, with a gradual recovery projected in 2010 to 3%. Advanced economies are expected to suffer the deepest recession with a 2% contraction this year. Inflation is expected to fall to 0.25% in 2009 from 3.5 % in 2008, before edging up to 0.75% in 2010. Emerging and developing economies are expected to slow from 6.25% in 2008 to 3.25% in 2009, with inflation in these countries expected to decline from 9.5% in 2008 to 5.75% in 2009 and 5% in 2010.

We took special note of the projections for India: at 5.1% the IMF projection for growth is well below the 6.5 - 7% that the ministry of Industry has been hyping in the press, but still strikes us as very optimistic. We re-shorted the Indian equity market via IFN today and continue to think that growth could slow more than many expect there.

The graph below taken from IMF data presents country specific, commodity, and import/export forecasts for 2009 juxtaposed with predictions from their last report in November.

Matthew Hedrick
Analyst

Andrew Barber
Director

US HOUSING - BULLISH BOTTOM FORMING

Earlier this week we learned that this month’s existing home sales came in +6.5% higher than last month’s number (see Keith McCullough’s post titled US Housing: Bullish Bottom Forming? - 1/26/09), and more importantly, inventories declined significantly. The supply of homes came down to 9.3 months, down significantly from the peak and the 11.2 months recorded in November 2008.

The second positive data point came yesterday. It was reported that the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city index fell 18.2% year-over-year, the biggest drop since it began 2001. Less attention was paid to the fact that the October decline was 18.1%. Yes, it was the worst month on record, but the rate of deceleration continues to slow. On the margin, this is a positive. As we noted in our MEGA note, we believe that as we reach the spring, we will have reached the peak in declining home prices. Home prices will continue to decline but at a much lesser rate.

The bears point to the fact that home values will continue to decline contributing to what’s already been the biggest destruction of American household wealth in many generations. Consequently, the decline in home prices makes banks even more reluctant to offer mortgages. We know all this!

How many times have you heard everything has its price? Clearly, the decline in home prices is now leading buyers back into the market. At the same time, we are seeing a zero percent Fed funds rate, and an Obama administration focused on getting banks to lend to those seeking new lows in 30-year mortgage rates. The combination of significantly lower home prices and lower mortgage rates will have a positive impact on the US real estate market in 2009!


US HOUSING - BULLISH BOTTOM FORMING PART II

Earlier this week we learned that this month’s existing home sales came in +6.5% higher than last month’s number (see post US Housing: Bullish Bottom Forming? - 1/26/09), and more importantly, inventories declined significantly. The supply of homes came down to 9.3 months, down significantly from the peak and the 11.2 months recorded in November 2008.

The second positive data point came yesterday. It was reported that the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city index fell 18.2% year-over-year, the biggest drop since it began 2001. Less attention was paid to the fact that the October decline was 18.1%. Yes, it was the worst month on record, but the rate of deceleration continues to slow. On the margin, this is a positive. As we noted in our MEGA note, we believe that as we reach the spring, we will have reached the peak in declining home prices. Home prices will continue to decline but at a much lesser rate.

The bears point to the fact that home values will continue to decline contributing to what’s already been the biggest destruction of American household wealth in many generations. Consequently, the decline in home prices makes banks even more reluctant to offer mortgages. We know all this!

How many times have you heard everything has its price? Clearly, the decline in home prices is now leading buyers back into the market. At the same time, we are seeing a zero percent Fed funds rate, and an Obama administration focused on getting banks to lend to those seeking new lows in 30-year mortgage rates. The combination of significantly lower home prices and lower mortgage rates will have a positive impact on the US real estate market in 2009!

Howard Penney
Managing Director

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