Starbucks beats as business continues to diversify

The coffee behemoth has a record holiday quarter, but investors are wary of narrowing margins and a disappointing forecast.

By Kim Peterson Jan 26, 2012 5:57PM
Image: Coffee Beans (© Purestock/SuperStock)Starbucks (SBUX) continued its pattern of beating Wall Street estimates Thursday, reporting quarterly profit and sales that were ahead of expectations. But margin concerns and a not-quite-high-enough forecast hurt shares in after-hours trading.

The coffee giant reported a $382.1 million profit, or 50 cents a share, for the fourth quarter, a 10% rise from a year earlier. Revenue rose 16% to a record $3.44 billion. Analysts expected a profit of 49 cents a share on revenue of $3.29 billion.

Global same-store sales rose 9%, the company said. That comes from a 7% increase in traffic combined with a 2% increase in the average customer transaction.

The holiday quarter was strong enough that Starbucks raised its 2012 earnings forecast to between $1.78 and $1.82 a share, or between 17% to 20% higher than what it reported for 2011. But even that raised forecast didn't hit the $1.83 a share that Wall Street is looking for.

Shares fell nearly 2% in after-hours trading as investors digested the numbers. Earlier Thursday, Starbucks shares rose about 1% to close at $48.34. Investors may have also been concerned with the company's operating margin, which narrowed by a mere 80 basis points to 16.2%.

The company is clearly trying to expand its business in just about every way possible. It will soon begin selling wine and beer in several restaurants in Atlanta, Chicago and Southern California. It already offers alcohol at some stores in Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Wine and beer, by the way, might help Starbucks' margins in the future. One analyst estimates that most alcoholic beverages have a 75% margin, Bloomberg reports.

Starbucks also plans to enter into the premium juice business with its purchase of juice company Evolution Fresh last November.

The company aims to open 800 net new stores in its fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Half of those stores will be in the Americas -- and half of those will be licensed stores in places like Target (TGT) and shopping malls. About 300 of the new stores will be in China and Asia Pacific, and 100 will be in Europe, the Middle east, Russia and Africa.

Perhaps bigger opportunities lie in Starbucks' ever-expanding grocery business. The company's consumer products unit, which sells packaged coffee and the K-cup pods for Keurig machines, saw revenue rise 72% to $336 million.

Tags: SBUX
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