SBUX - Playing the Value Game

SBUX's Vice President of Customer Relationship Management Brad Stevens posted on the company's My Starbucks Idea website yesterday that a majority of the company's U.S. locations will be offering some sort of deal between now and early September. The promotions will vary by location but include among others reduced prices in the afternoon (with morning receipt) or free 12 oz. iced coffee on Wednesdays. Mr. Stevens said the company is responding to customers' request for everyday value, especially when money is tight.
  • These deals are being introduced to help stop declining traffic, which has been decelerating since 3Q06. In the most recently reported 2Q08, the company did not quantify the traffic decline, except to say that trends had significantly deteriorated from 1Q08's 3% decline.
  • Although I recognize that SBUX must take the necessary steps to improve its traffic trends, these new promotions bring us back to the traffic versus margin question. To that point, Mr. Stevens would not specify whether or how much the value offerings will impact SBUX's profits. Starbucks' FY07 U.S. operating margins were already down 90 basis points YOY and fell to 10% in 2Q08 so margins are already under pressure.
  • Additionally, despite Mr. Stevens saying in an interview the company has no plans to join the likes of McDonald's and Burger King by offering a dollar menu that could clash with Starbucks' luxury image, these types of promotions run the risk of changing the consumer's perception of the SBUX brand. Just as a company can alienate its customer base by abandoning its perceived value messaging, a company can also compromise its brand by trading its customers down as they begin to expect such promotions.

Japanese Stagflation Is Obvious Now...

I know a lot of "value" buyers want to call the bottom in Japanese Equities. I'm always up for buying on sale, just no Japan for me yet, thank you... I'd rather be long Taiwan.

Japan's economic growth is slowing into the head wind of inflation accelerating. This morning's inflation report (PPI for June) came in at +5.6%. That's a 27 year high! Japan's cheap money cycle will continue to haunt their economy until they raise interest rates from where they are now (negative real rates).

Global Stagflation is here.

*Full Disclosure: I am own Taiwan via the EWT country etf as of yesterday.

This Week's Jobless # Shines Light In A Darkening Hole...

The weekly jobless claims # of 346,000 was a big surprise to the positive side versus last week's abysmal 404,000. This actually improves the 4 week moving average for the 1st time since the US market began its latest decline.

Additionally, this morning's June same store sales #'s at US retail were certainly better than toxic.

As the facts change I will, and these 2 facts are better than I was expecting.

Into market weakness, I continue to get longer this morning.

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Covering My Target (TGT): Ackman Has A Headache...

One year ago, almost to the day, on July 13th, 2007, TGT went to $70.14 on the hopes and dreams of the me-too levered long community riding Bill Ackman's "activist" position into the sunset. Today, TGT is down -35% from those ridiculous expectations.

Most of you who have followed my views since I left Wall Street in November, know that I have been long WMT and short TGT ever since this circus began.

I am happy to walk out of the circus tent, with my popcorn, smiling...

Clearly, Bill didn't "do macro".

*Full Disclosure: I covered my TGT in the last 30 minutes of trading.

PNRA - PNRA is Discounting too!


WARREN, Ohio -- Panera Bread will soon begin to give away $90,000 worth of BP gas cards. The restaurant will begin July 12 to register customers at its locations in Cleveland, Akron and Canton. Officials said the gas cards will be given away each Saturday throughout July and August. Winners will be randomly selected to receive a $75 gift card. Officials said registration boxes can be found immediately upon entering any of these Panera Bread locations. There is no purchase necessary and participants can enter one time per day, officials said.

SBUX - Mapping The Closed Stores

Starbucks recently announced that it will be closing 600 stores in the U.S. The list of stores has not been released for a host of internal reasons. Meanwhile, many Starbucks employees are talking about closures unofficially. This Google map marks locations where baristas, customers and others are hearing the closures will happen.

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