I don't exactly know what took me so long, but I just bought shares in Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), one of my favorite companies when it comes to two critical investing filters: long-term performance and corporate social responsibility.
Responsible to the core
Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, comes in two basic varieties. Some companies go the CSR route by grafting a skin of social responsibility onto their existing corporate bodies. This can be for PR purposes or for purposes more genuine. Either way, for me, it doesn't matter, so long as CSR is on a company's radar and the company is taking real action as a result.
But for some companies, CSR goes much deeper, to the very core of the enterprise. Starbucks is just such a company. Since the first Starbucks opened in 1971, the company has sought a balance between profit and social responsibility. A quick trip to the website reveals an extensive set of CSR-driven activities.
- Community: Starbucks is committed to helping the communities in which it operates thrive. One example of this is the Community Stores program, special Starbucks cafes that share a portion of their profits with their local communities. Currently, Starbucks operates two Community Stores: one in Harlem, in New York City, and the other in Los Angeles.
- Environment: As the company itself puts it, being reliant as it is on an agricultural product -- coffee -- for its continuing success, it makes sense to care for the planet and to encourage others to do the same. Towards this, Starbucks has internal programs that address energy usage, water usage, recycling, and green building.
- Wellness: This covers the obvious -- like offering skinny lattes to fresh fruit, salads, whole grains and reduced-fat pastries -- to the not so obvious but just as important: like advocating for policies that support community health to being a longtime provider of comprehensive health coverage for employees to being a steadfast supporter of meaningful health care reform.
- Ethical sourcing: In my opinion, this is where Starbucks shines the most when it comes to CSR. The company has been a pioneer in ethically sourcing its coffee, tea, and cocoa. Per the website: "Conservation International and Starbucks have been working together for more than 14 years, developing and applying the comprehensive set of environmental, social and economic guidelines Starbucks uses to source ethical coffee known as Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices."
Also a great business
Of course, if a company isn't performing as a business, it doesn't matter what it's doing when it comes to CSR, because it will likely be insolvent soon enough anyway. Fortunately for investors, like myself now, that's far from the case:
- In its most recent quarter, Starbucks grew its revenue by a very healthy 11% year over year, versus Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ:DNKN) 5%, Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) 9%, and McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) -0.2%.
- Starbucks' YOY earnings were just a little better than flat in the most recent quarter, at 0.1% growth. That isn't great, but McDonald's managed only 3.5%. It's a tough world economy out there.
- Finally, it's always good have more cash than debt, ideally at least 1.5 times more, which, with $2 billion in cash and $550 million in debt, Starbucks easily achieves. $166 million in cash and $1.9 billion in debt leave Dunkin well below that benchmark. McDonald's and Yum! Brands follow in Dunkin's footsteps in this regard.
A pretty perfect marriage
Ten shares of Starbucks isn't much, but its a start, one I intend to build on. And while Starbucks isn't a perfect company, either in terms of performance or social responsibility, no company is. And wasn't it Voltaire who said that pursuit of the perfect mustn't drive out the good? Wiser words were rarely spoken.
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