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An Honest Look at What's Brewing Ahead of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' Earnings

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It's been a devastating year so far for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Nasdaq: GMCR  ) , with shares down more than 45% year to date. And if you've been a shareholder since the stock's peak in February (around $64 a share), you're probably as bitter as burnt coffee. Is it finally time to cut your losses and move on, or is there a hidden upside to this beaten-down brewer? Let's take a closer look at what's really in store for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and what investors can expect out of the upcoming earnings report.

A jolt of java
With the specialty coffee company set to release its fourth-quarter earnings on Nov. 27, analysts and investors seem to have high expectations for the quarter. This is surprising, considering the strong headwinds facing Green Mountain -- not to mention that the company is now one of the most-shorted stocks on the Nasdaq with short float at more than 37%. For one, the company faces considerable risk since key patents on its popular K-Cup technology expired in September.

Expiration of Green Mountain's K-Cup patents means that grocery chains, such as Safeway (NYSE: SWY  ) and Kroger (NYSE: KR  ) , can now make and sell their own pods for use in the Keurig system without having to pay licensing fees to Green Mountain. As a result, Green Mountain's growth rate should slip lower from here as more companies begin offering private-label portion packs.

Granted, increased competition in the single-serve space is something analysts have been anticipating for some time now. But this doesn't change the reality that rivals such as Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) and Kraft (Nasdaq: KRFT  ) are now promoting their own single-serve machines. And as one of the strongest brands in the world, Starbucks shouldn't have any problem selling its new Verismo machines.

However, Green Mountain isn't going down without a fight. In fact, the company continues to forge strategic relationships in hopes of combating increased competition in the space. It recently inked a deal with Dr Pepper Snapple Group (NYSE: DPS  ) that will bring "The Best Stuff on Earth" to Green Mountain's Keurig system. Of course, Snapple joins other well-known branded beverages including portion packs from Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts (Nasdaq: DNKN  ) .

While this move will likely help the company maintain dominance in the single-serve market over the near term, there's no denying that the longer-term growth story is eroding. As far as the bigger picture is concerned, new licensing agreements and an updated product line of Keurig Vue machines will only carry Green Mountain so far.

The average earnings estimate for the company is $0.48 per share in the fourth quarter and $2.24 per share for the full year. For comparison, rival Starbucks delivers its fourth-quarter results on Nov. 1, and analysts' average estimates currently stand at $0.45 per share, with a full-year expectation of $1.78 per share.

As far as other competitors are concerned, Dunkin' Brands recently raised its full-year guidance thanks to strong sales in its U.S. stores. The coffee and donut chain also continues to have success with sales of branded coffee K-Cups for use in Green Mountain's Keurig machines. But all stocks are not created equal, and the fact that Dunkin' Brands raised its full-year guidance doesn't mean Green Mountain will share the same luck.

All told, I suspect Green Mountain will continue to struggle in the quarters to come. For that reason, I think long-term investors are better off with a proven winner like Starbucks in the coffee space.

Nevertheless, with Green Mountain as cheap as it's ever been, many investors are wondering whether this is the end of the former market darling or the perfect entry point for an enormous rebound. You can find our recommendation for how to play the company in our new premium research report. In it you'll find everything you need to know about Green Mountain, including whether it's a buy at today's prices. Click here for instant access.

Fool contributor Tamara Rutter has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks and has the following options: long DEC 2012 $16.00 puts on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, short DEC 2012 $21.00 calls on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and short JAN 2013 $47.00 puts on Starbucks. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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