Starbucks: Tasty, but let it cool first

Yes, SBUX just posted record profits, but watch for short-term weakness -- you could be rewarded with a great buy-in point.

By InvestorPlace Jan 25, 2013 12:50PM

iplogoA Starbucks Corp sign is displayed outside a coffee shop in London UK Chris Ratcliffe Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBy James Brumley

Millions of people might be underemployed if not outright unemployed, and consumers might even be cutting back in their purchases of technology toys like the iPhone or the iPad.


But come hell or high water, they will be sipping on a caffe latte at their local Starbucks (SBUX).

That's the impression one would have gotten following Thursday's earnings news from the world's most prolific coffee house, anyway. Same-store sales grew by 6% company-wide, 7% in the United States. Per-share profits were highly caffeinated too, up 14% from the year ago number of 50 cents per share to 57 cents in its fiscal first quarter of 2013 (mostly calendar Q4 2012).

It was a record-breaking bottom line, too, underscoring the argument that Starbucks is doing a lot of things right.

So, uh .... now what?

Just the facts
Last quarter's year-over-year revenue grew by 11%, with a little more than half of that growth fueled by organic in-store sales increases, but a fair portion driven by the 212 (net) new stores erected during the past four quarters. When it was all said and done, the $40.6 billion company generated $3.8 billion in sales last quarter -- the quarter that's historically the biggest and best for the year.

Here's the killer: That's still not good enough.

While earnings per share of 57 cents rolled in as expected, that top line was about $50 million shy of analyst revenue estimates.

Some might say such a small shortfall is splitting hairs. And, were it any other company or any other situation, that might be a fair assessment of coming up 1.3% short on revenues. But this is Starbucks -- this is a stock that has run up 8% since its last quarterly earnings report. It's also a stock that's trading at more than 30 times its trailing income, and more than 20 times its projected profits. There is no wiggle room, even if it manages to produce the expected 15% to 20% improvement in earnings this year.

Yet, after a little selling pressure immediately following Thursday's report, the bulls stepped back up to the plate to not only get the stock back to even with its closing price, but actually up in after-hours trading, to the tune of a 3% gain. It remains some 3.5% higher in morning Friday trade. Will it last? Nobody knows, though fans should at least be concerned of a rollover (mentally as well as directionally) for the shares.

The trade
Investors assuming Starbucks (the stock, as well as the company's earnings) will be anything other than stellar in the long run might want to have their heads examined. This company has made premium coffee a staple and is yielding its market leadership to no one.



Click to Enlarge


In the near-term, however, the stock has some technical pressures to deal with that might affect when and where newcomers want to step in.

Above all else, Thursday evening's initial weakness implies there's some selling pressure that needs to be worked off. The fact that shares peaked at a known ceiling around $56 a few days ago as well as Friday morning bolsters the notion that at least some bears had plans, even before earnings were unveiled. With that being the case, it probably would be unwise to stand in the way of any selling now that the catalyst is here … even if it did't materialize immediately Friday.

Just don't stand on the sidelines for too long. While SBUX shares might be priced at a bit of a premium, this is a stock that can justify it.

Long-term investors looking for a better entry spot should note that short-term traders see a major technical floor -- and former ceiling -- around $52.20. That's also roughly where the 200-day moving average will be by the time that support level could be tested.

If you need a more fundamental justification for an entry, however, a dip to the $52.20 mark would mean Starbucks shares are trading at about 24 times 2013's expected income, and only 19.9 times 2014's projected profits. That's not cheap, but that's about as cheap as Starbucks is going to get. On a monthly close basis, SBUX hasn't traded at a sub-20 price-to-earnings ratio since 2008.

As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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