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We remain bearish on SBUX over the intermediate-term, as the new growth algorithm has risks and a few “big bets” that may or may not pay off for the company as expected.  In the meantime, slowing traffic trends continue to suggest there are a few cracks in the current algorithm that will need to be addressed in FY15. 

Last week Starbucks Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Howard Schultz, and other company executives detailed the company’s five-year strategic growth plan.  That plan included a goal of generating nearly $30 billion in revenues by 2019.  Importantly, what they failed to mention is what type of earnings the company expects to generate with that level of revenues.

As mentioned earlier, Starbucks outlined its new growth algorithm over the next five years.  It’s significantly different from how the company delivered growth to shareholders over the past five years.  Over this time, the company has grown, on average, annual revenues and earnings of 8% and 26%, respectively.  Now, the company is talking about annual revenue and earnings growth of 12-13% and 15-20%, respectively.  Importantly, this will come as annual unit growth is expected to accelerate from 6% to 8%.

The risks, and overall returns, associated with a unit growth story are distinctly different from those associated with a margin recovery story.  Our bearish bias heading into last quarter’s print was predicated on globally decelerating traffic trends.  There was no evidence presented during the analyst meeting that suggested this deceleration wouldn’t continue throughout 1H15.  Management is essentially guaranteeing a successful holiday season in the short-term, while looking to mobile payments, pickup and delivery, and food to drive incremental transactions over the long-term.  Needless to say, we have our reservations about how food will perform and believe it’s important to note that the technology piece of this algorithm is still in the test phase.  Even if technology proves to a successful driver for the business, it will not have a notable impact on the business until 4Q15; only 16% of in-store transactions currently use the SBUX app for payment.

At the beginning of the meeting, Howard Schultz presented the following question: “What does it take to build a great, enduring company?”  To be clear, we believe Starbucks is a great company (we’ve written very favorably on the name since 2009) that will endure for generations.  There was never a question in our mind that this continues to be the case.

Our current thesis on SBUX, however, has little to do with the aforementioned.  Instead, it has essentially everything to do with the risks associated with driving incremental transactions and the timing of when these risks will impact the P&L.  As we’ve seen in the past, not everything this company touches turns to gold and expanding the business beyond its core operations has had significant implications in the past.

To put our thoughts about the new unit growth algorithm and the risks associated with it into perspective, the following quote from Howard Schultz says it all:

“We have to maintain the entrepreneurial DNA of the company.  We have to have the constant curiosity to see around corners and see what others don’t see, and we have to have the courage and conviction to make big bets.”

As we see it, the “biggest bet” the company is making is on its food strategy and its potential impact on the lunch daypart.  SBUX is investing a substantial amount of time and effort into building food sales, without the benefit of having equipment that allows them to produce the food fresh.  Food is the biggest risk to the DNA of the company because, in our view, it will never be on-par with the quality of beverages consumers have come to expect from Starbucks.  Lastly, it’s difficult to imagine that other QSRs and fast casual restaurants will simply let SBUX take incremental market share from them.

Within the first three minutes of his speech, Schultz hit on the one question on everybody’s mind: “What will the company do to drive incremental traffic?” 

He set the tone early when he said, “As a merchant, we have to consistently recognize that one of our obligations and responsibilities in this new world is that we have to drive incremental traffic.”

What’s become clear to us is that the street has given management a “pass” after delivering disappointing 4Q14 results, opting instead to wager that the current holiday promotions, most notably “Starbucks for Life,” will drive accelerated traffic in 1Q15.

The most disingenuous slide of the day consisted of a chart of Starbucks stock price from November 2008 ($7 per share) to December 2014 ($80 per share).  The implication here was to imagine what could be accomplished in five or six years, but it’d be unreasonable to expect a similar return moving forward.  The analyst day showed the significant level of sophistication inherent in the SBUX business model, particularly when compared to other companies in the quick-service space.  To be fair, however, we could’ve made the same observation in July of 2007, right before the stock plummeted from $40 to $7 per share.

There was a great deal of emphasis on the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room during the conference.  The new building, which represents a new premium brand within the SBUX family, has been in the making for over two years and offers a retail experience that does not exist anywhere in the global QSR market today.  Starbucks Reserve gives consumers access to rare micro-lot coffee that will be roasted in the new facility.  The company plans to open new Starbucks Reserve stores, which will be about the same size as an average Starbucks store.  The goal of these new stores is to bring to life a super-premium experience for coffee consumers, although management did not touch upon the size of the opportunity.

The following is a summary of comments from key Starbucks executives and our quick take on what each said:

Matt Ryan - Global Chief Strategy Officer

Matt laid out seven key strategies for growth:

  1. Be the Employer of Choice – invest in partners capable of delivering a superior customer experience.
  2. Lead in Coffee – continue to build our leadership position around coffee agronomy, sourcing, roasting, brewing, and serving handcrafted beverages.
  3. Grow the Store Portfolio – increase the scale of the Starbucks store footprint with disciplined expansion (different formats, licensing opportunities, international expansion).
  4. Create New Occasions to Visit Stores – grow store usage across dayparts with new product offers; in addition to breakfast, create new food offerings for lunch, afternoon refreshment and snacks, and evenings.
  5. CPG Brand Growth – focus on the Starbucks brand to unlock profitable growth rarely seen in consumer packaged goods internationally.
  6. Build Teavana – create a second major business in tea; the global tea market is about a $109 billion dollar industry (emphasis on tea bars, relevant tea product and formats, Teavana in Starbucks, and Teavana in the grocery aisle).
  7. Extend Digital Engagement – drive convenience and brand engagement through mobile commerce platforms; this includes expanding the number of customers participating in My Starbucks Rewards and launching Mobile Order, Pay, and Delivery (1/8 Americans received a Starbucks gift card for Christmas last year).

Hedgeye: The company laid out an ambitious goal of 82% revenue growth over the next five years to nearly $30 billion, stemming from more than 30,000 stores globally.  This implies 8% annual unit growth and mid-single digit same-store sales growth.  This represents a different business model than the last five years, when revenues and EPS grew approximately 68% and 233%, respectively, and unit count grew ~6% annually.  The new strategy will be more difficult to execute, making margin growth difficult to come by if same-store sales slow.  We suspect years one and two will be well-executed, while years three and five will be more difficult to manage as management pushes the unit growth rate to levels unseen in a very long-time.

Adam Brotman - Chief Digital Officer

  • “Mobile order and pay, launched in Portland, is the latest edition to what is already the most powerful mobile ecosystem of any retailer in the world.”

By the numbers:

  • Starbucks has 47 million transactions each week in its 12,000 US stores
  • 8 million active My Starbucks Rewards members
  • 12 million customers actively use Starbucks mobile apps
  • “Delivery is one of our most requested ideas. We are exploring several different options to make this a reality. Delivery will launch in select markets in late 2015.”

Hedgeye: The SBUX bulls are making their own “big bet” that technology will save the day for the company.

Arthur Rubinfeld - Chief Creative Officer

  • “Starbucks is the gold standard because of its retail site selection, global reach and local relevance with 18 design studios around the world.”
  • "We are the leading retail, real estate, design and construction management company in the world."
  • “Starbucks honors its heritage, with the original store in Pike Place Market, it evolves with locally-relevant design, and embraces its future – the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room.”
  • Starbucks has design studios in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, New York, Coral Gables, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, London, Amsterdam, Moscow, Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
  • "No two Starbucks stores being built today are alike because of our in-house design studios focusing on locally-relevant design."
  • “The company continues to develop new store formats.”

Hedgeye: SBUX is light years ahead of the competition in keeping its store consumer friendly.

Troy Alstead - Chief Operating Officer

  • “Starbucks partners are the driving force behind our culture.”
  • “We measure what drives perception of our brand and the single most important thing, is the connection made between partners and customers.”
  • “Starbucks has a deep history of elevated partner investments and innovation. This includes: healthcare for partners; Bean Stock; beverage, food and merchandise benefits; Starbucks College Achievement Plan.”  
  • “Starbucks currently has 21,000 stores and expects to have 30,000 stores by the end of 2019. The company has ‘significant store growth opportunity’ around the world.”
  • “World-class operations are driving global growth including: best in class store operations; expanding channels of distribution; supply chain excellence and efficiency; industry leader in digital with ongoing investments in tech capabilities; deep global leadership bench.”

Hedgeye: It appears as though Troy is clearly being groomed to be the next CEO of Starbucks.

Cliff Burrows - President, U.S., Americas, and Teavana

  • Americas region (Canada, U.S., South America) contributes 73% to global revenues with 54 million transactions every week, through more than 14,000 stores in 16 countries. 
  • U.S. stores account for 65% of global revenue. 
  • More opportunities lie ahead with food. Starbucks has completed the rollout of La Boulange to more than 11,000 stores ahead of schedule. The biggest opportunity with food is in the breakfast sandwich category.
  • “Americas is strongly positioned for continued growth. Over the next five years we plan to open over 3,500 net new stores, increase revenue by $7 Billion and almost double our operating income.”

Hedgeye: There is nothing new regarding these comments.  Food and technology are the incremental growth drivers of the division.  New units are important, but this isn’t the story here.

Kris Engskov - President, EMEA

  • EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) is positioned for future, profitable growth, currently with 6.4 million+ transactions every week through 2,100 stores in 37 countries. The region has 23,000 Starbucks partners. 
  • Starbucks expects to double its EMEA store count over the next 5 years. Key drivers will be: improving store economics; new formats and channels; new strategic partnerships. 
  • “Drive-Thru and roadside stores remain our biggest growth opportunity.”
  • "Licensing in grocery stores is emerging as a major, new growth opportunity."
  • “50 percent of the world’s coffee is consumed in the EMEA region.” 

Hedgeye: EMEA may represent a significant growth opportunity for the company, but it is too small right now to make a difference in the overall performance of the company.

John Culver – President, CAP

  • “We are at a transformative moment in our growth within the China and Asia-Pacific region. Two years ago at this conference, I said that the CAP region represents the single largest and fastest retail growth opportunity for the company. As true as that statement was two years ago, that statement is even more true today as we look at the opportunity in front of us.”
  • “If a picture is worth 1,000 words, this shows us our brand across the region has never been stronger, the customer experience we deliver has never been more relevant, and our partners who wear the green apron have never been more passionate.” 
  • In CAP region - there are 80,000 partners in 4,600 stores in 15 countries with 12 million transactions ever week.
  • “Going forward, our ambition is clear. As we look ahead five years, Starbucks will double the number of stores we have across the region and approach 10,000 locations.”

Closer look at key markets within CAP:

  • Japan:  In September, Starbucks announced it will take full ownership of the company’s second largest market in the world.  Starbucks currently serves 4 million customers every week and has 1.3 million My Starbucks Rewards members. 
  • India: Starbucks fastest growing new market (just celebrated its 2nd anniversary) with 61 stores across six cities.
  • Korea: Starbucks opened in Korea 15 years ago and the country is the third largest market in the region with 700 stores.  The company opened its first drive thru two years ago and over the next year half of the new stores they open in Korea will be drive-thrus.  
  • Thailand: Last month Starbucks opened its 200th store.  Thailand is home to Starbucks first community store outside the U.S. 
  • “Over the next five years we are committed to doubling the number of stores across the region.”

Hedgeye: CAP is also seeing a significant slowdown in traffic trends.  Therefore, CAP has the potential to become a sore for investors in FY15.

Belinda Wong - President, China

  • China is the fastest growing market for Starbucks.
  • The company has been in China for 16 years with 25,000 partners working in 1,400 stores in 84 cities, with 3 million transactions every week. 
  • “We opened on average 1 store per day last year. This year we have a high ambition. We will open one store every 18 hours, and I’m proud to announce we will open our 1,500th store by the end of this month.”
  • Starbucks China has 6,000 certified coffee masters. “Our passionate partners are why we are successful in China.”
  • “We are humbled by how Chinese consumers have accepted and embraced the Starbucks experience. We are proud to lead the specialty coffee experience in China.”
  • “Starbucks will continue to “grow with great discipline."
  • “The investment made through a Starbucks design studio in China is giving the company an edge in driving innovations.”
  • “Company will more than double its store count to have 3,400 stores in mainland China by 2019.”

Hedgeye: Considering other U.S. brands such as MCD and KFC are losing favor with Chinese consumers, there is the potential it spills over to SBUX.

Michael Conway - President, Global Development

  • Think of Channel Development as “connecting people around the world to Starbucks wherever they live, work and play.”
  • Our reach today is significant, with products distributed in 39 countries including the U.S. There are more than 1 million places outside a Starbucks retail store where a customer can find Starbucks products.

This includes:

  • 1,300 colleges and universities.
  • 30,000 offices.
  • 120,000 grocery and convenience stores.
  • More than 12 million travelers each week encounter Starbucks in their hotel rooms, on cruise ships or on Delta and Alaska flights around the world.
  • “We hold the leadership position in the premium and single cup categories. Roughly half of sales in these two categories come from just three brands.  As a testament to our brand relevance, Starbucks was the only established brand to gain share last year in Premium Single Cup.”
  • "The fastest growing segment in the coffee category is K-Cups and Starbucks once again grew faster than the category in 2014 at more than 34 percent. Since we launched K-Cup packs in 2011, we have shipped 2.3 billion K-Cups and are projected to ship over 1 Billion in 2015, led by our newest innovation - iced coffee K-cups. "

Hedgeye: The least exciting part of the SBUX story.

Scott Maw - Chief Financial Officer

  • “Highlights of Starbucks strong financial performance over the past four years: Starbucks doubled cash returns and doubled dividend payout through strong financial discipline.”
  • “We will maintain our core focus: best in class revenue growth; capital investment efficiency; total return to shareholders.”
  • "We've never missed our guidance due to coffee prices." 
  • “Starbucks is uniquely positioned to deliver significant shareholder value.”

Hedgeye: We like Scott and he certainly has a great handle on the numbers.  The one lingering uncertainty we walked away with was whether or not he controls the punch bowl when it comes to making incremental investments.  One thing, however, was clear: Scott’s job will be significantly more difficult than the one Troy had.

Howard Penney

Managing Director

Fred Masotta