At 1:05 p.m. EDT on Friday, shares of coffee giant Starbucks Corp. (SBUX -1.84%) were down 9.4%, following the release of the company's fiscal third-quarter earnings after the close Thursday. Including that drop, Starbucks investors have seen its share price fall 16% since it hit its all-time high in June.
Starbucks' results for the quarter that ended July 2 came in a bit mixed, at least relative to analysts' expectations. While earnings -- adjusted to account for one-time charges related to shuttering the Teavana retail stores and foreign-currency impacts -- of $0.55 per share were in line with most projections, the company's 8% revenue growth to $5.7 billion was slightly below expectations.
But the big concern for investors today is likely the company's ability to continue growing sales, particularly in its core markets such as the U.S., where the retail landscape is changing incredibly quickly under disruption from e-commerce. Even though Starbucks' comp-store sales -- that is, sales at company-owned stores opened more than one year -- increased 5% in the U.S. after three quarters of less-than-stellar comps growth, management revised its fourth quarter and full-year guidance down on the earnings call. CFO Scott Maw said the following:
At the time of our last earnings call, we were seeing significant positive momentum in our principal global retail markets, particularly the U.S. However, that momentum ebbed and flowed over the quarter. The actions we have put in place are beginning to gain traction, but stiff consumer and industry headwinds remain. So, while lowering current year guidance as we enter Q4 is difficult, given the uncertainty we are seeing in the marketplace, we feel that doing so is the better part of valor and the appropriate action to take.
At the end of its fiscal second quarter, Starbucks' full-year guidance was for EPS between $2.06 and $2.10 on a GAAP basis. On Thursday, it revised that guidance downward to a $1.96 to $1.97 range on a GAAP basis, and a $2.05 to $2.06 range on an adjusted basis. Management also said that revenue growth would come in at the low end of its 8% to 10% forecast range, while comps growth was expected to land between 3% and 4% on a global basis during its fourth quarter.
Starbucks, like every other retailer that operates brick-and-mortar stores, is facing very real concerns about the future. While the coffee giant itself is not at risk of being disrupted by an online competitor, and its core clientele generally choose it specifically, the company does rely on mall and shopping center traffic to drive casual sales to some extent. That was almost certainly a factor in management's downward guidance revision. Furthermore, the company's decision to close its 380 retail Teavana stores was a direct response to what's happening to the brick-and-mortar retail world.
This is where investors must be willing to take the long view. Starbucks' same-store sales growth has lagged over recent quarters, and management said it's seeing that trend re-emerge after an improvement in the third quarter. But at the same time this is happening primarily in the U.S. market, Starbucks is doubling-down on accelerating growth in mainland China, having announced a $1.3 billion deal to buy out its joint venture partners and take full control over all operations and future expansion there.
Also, the company continues to leverage its brand power to grow sales of bottled beverages through other retailers, recently launching a major partnership with Anheuser Busch InBev to sell bottled Teavana drinks, and it has seen its CPG sales in China triple after an expanded joint venture there earlier this year. The company is also ramping up its efforts to expand sales of whole and ground coffee, as well as K-Cup and Nespresso pods.
Don't overlook this critical segment of the business, called Channel Development, which grew sales 9% and operating income 12% in the quarter. It may account for less than 9% of sales, but it generated more than 20% of total operating income. If more consumers choose to stay home, Starbucks' ability to grow sales of at-home brewed and bottled beverages could be critically important to its long-term prospects.
Bottom line: There are some short-term concerns, and the disruption of retail continues to play out. But Starbucks has one of the most resilient and least disruptable retail operations out there, and its international growth prospects and ability to leverage its brand to grow CPG sales are nearly unmatched.
Add it all up, and today's big drop is probably more of a buying opportunity than a reason to sell, but it's going to take some time for things to play out. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at earnings soon.