Shares of Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) fell below the $50 mark on Wednesday afternoon, heading even lower on Thursday morning after announcing that its CFO was leaving the company. If you can't recall the last time Starbucks traded this low, you're not alone. You have to go back three summers -- to August 2015 -- to find the last time the stock traded lower.
There are plenty of reasons for Starbucks falling out of favor with investors, but it all boils down to slowing growth prompting concerns about the concept's near-term popularity. The barista baron has disappointed the market with back-to-back quarters of 2% growth in global comps, but last week it warned that comparable-store sales will rise a mere 1% in its fiscal third quarter. The chain is underperforming its long-term goal of 3% to 5% growth in comps as well as the 3% forecast for the current quarter that it was targeting two months ago. Starbucks blames sluggish sales of its signature Frappuccino beverages on health and wellness trends. Analysts blame cutthroat competition. With Starbucks stock now at its lowest level in nearly three years, the real question for investors is if the chain is in a long-term slump or if this is a great buying opportunity.
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Filling up the cup
Starbucks can't seem to catch a break. A few analysts slashed their price targets on the stock last week. Andy Barish at Jefferies argues that Starbucks hosing down its guidance suggests that the days of the chain as a reliable growth darling may be over. He remains bullish based on the current valuation, but he feels that Starbucks is transitioning into a choppier growth investment. Sara Senatore at Bernstein feels that growth is slowing as consumers realize that Starbucks is charging more for brewed coffee -- roughly 38% more -- than its quick-service competitors. With coffee commodity prices near historical lows, it won't give Starbucks much in pricing leverage when bean prices inevitably head higher.
Even boosting its dividend by 20% last week was met with notable resistance. Moody's would go on to downgrade the chain's senior unsecured ratings in light of Starbucks beefing up its efforts to return more money to its stakeholders. The credit-rating agency would go on to stick with its earlier rating on Starbucks' short-term commercial paper, but Moody's outlook is negative.
Then we get to the mighty Frappuccino. Starbucks revealed last week that sales of the frosty beverages have declined 3% so far this fiscal year. It points to consumer concerns about the high sugar and calories in the drinks. Starbucks says it's an industry issue, but it can't help that burger joints and doughnut shops have been blending up ice and coffee at much lower price points than Starbucks in recent years.
Starbucks isn't letting pride get in the way of its operational hiccups. It stunned investors last week in announcing that it's ramping up the number of annual store closures. It's not a good look -- just like seeing its CFO step down -- but the valuation is perhaps too tempting to pass up here.
The stock has obviously lagged the market over the past three years, but it's still growing on both ends of its income statement. Thursday's decline is pushing the stock to trade below 20 times this fiscal year's projected profit. When's the last time that Starbucks was trading at a P/E in the high teens? The cascading shares and rising dividend now find its yield at a hearty 2.5%.
The shareholder baton is shifting from the hands of growth investors to those seeking income, value, and turnaround situations. This may not be a bad thing in light of its slump. Starbucks drinks may not be cheap, but it's stock is at the moment.
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