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I may be heading straight for a boiling hot cup of criticism, given the ever-increasing pessimistic buzz about Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) , but I feel moved to nominate it as the Best Stock for 2009. In these undoubtedly tough times, there's undeniable comfort in a good cup of coffee, a high-quality experience, and a nice place to park oneself out of the house -- all on the cheap (relatively speaking). With Starbucks' shares so beaten-down right now, investors might just regret not snapping them up at such a bargain price.
A contrarian thought on the recession argument
True, we are in a recession, and that means hard times. But let's keep this in perspective. In an anecdotal aside, I was laid off when the dot-com bubble busted spectacularly, and Starbucks proved to be one of my salvations. Although I obviously didn't have much money, I had to get out of the apartment sometimes. Starbucks was a great place to grab some coffee and just relax in a nice atmosphere, or to meet up with friends to have a chat over a cuppa joe. Instead of paying much, much more for a full-blown dinner, my salvation cost me a relatively inexpensive $5 for the whole experience. That's the other side of the "pricey coffee" argument: I don't believe Starbucks is as badly positioned to survive this terrible economic environment as it's cracked up to be.
Granted, this recession is hurting Starbucks. Still, I have yet to enter an empty Starbucks, even now. I still see plenty of paying customers -- sometimes too many, it seems, when the lines are almost longer than my patience to deal with them. But with any luck, the company's cost-cutting measure of closing less-trafficked stores (which likely shouldn't have been opened in the first place) will result in a more profitable Starbucks over the long haul.
Starbucks' coffee may be known as a luxury, but I still argue it's an affordable one. We may see the death of excessive luxury as our economy deleverages, which might prove extremely difficult for ultra-fancy companies like Tiffany (NYSE: TIF ) , Coach (NYSE: COH ) , and Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN ) . Things are already pretty rough for high-end restaurant companies like Ruth's Chris (Nasdaq: RUTH ) and Cheesecake Factory (Nasdaq: CAKE ) .
Although consumers may turn away from such indulgences, I have a feeling many more will still crave the little niceties of life, like Starbucks' coffees and their stores' pleasant and relaxing environment. Some may prefer McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) coffee offerings (and their low prices), but I just can't imagine grown-ups choosing McDonald's bland, fluorescent venues as a place to chat with friends, read books, or peck away at their laptops.
Starbucks has an excellent brand with its heart in all the right places, too. Whether it's offering health care for its workers, showing concern for the environment, or supporting fair-trade coffee farmers, consumers know they are frequenting a company that cares. That can be a comfort, too.
Overflowing pessimism can yield opportunity
All the gloomy Starbucks-related chatter I've heard lately makes me suspect the company's near or at the point of maximum pessimism. Let's get real, folks: The brand is not broken, and people are still going to Starbucks. When it comes to the stock's extremely low price, I'm seeing a major logic disconnect.
Starbucks shares have plunged 55% in the last year, now trading at 10 times forward earnings. That's absolutely crazy on an historical basis -- for years, this stock's average price-to-earnings ratio was around 40. At one point, it spiked to an average of about 70. Analysts still expect 17% growth over the next five years, too. Even if they're a little too optimistic, it's still easy to see that investors may have gotten a little carried away in their pessimism, judging by current multiples.
While Starbucks' growth has certainly being slammed in the short term, I believe this company's solid management and stellar brand can certainly brew up some strong growth again. Indeed, Starbucks could be one of the best investment values in a decade.
What do you think? If you believe Starbucks will be 2009's best stock, please log into Motley Fool CAPS and rate it as an outperform. We'll reveal our community's pick for the year's top stock next week.
Until then, I'm taking my venti latte with a triple shot of optimism.