What happened

Coffee-giant Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) had a great 2018, as shares rose 12.1% during the year, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. While a 12% gain may not seem impressive on the surface, this return easily crushed the S&P 500's 6% decline last year.

The stock's gain came during the tail end of the year as investors cheered the company's double-digit revenue growth and strong comparable-store sales momentum in Starbucks' fourth quarter of fiscal 2018.

Check out the latest Starbucks earnings call transcript.

A woman using Starbucks' mobile loyalty program

Image source: Starbucks.

So what

Before Starbucks impressed investors in 2018, it disappointed them. About halfway through the year, the company reduced its outlook for its fiscal third-quarter comparable-store sales, noting the key metric would see just 1% growth.

But as investors warmed up to the company's more aggressive capital-return program, which included a dividend increase one quarter earlier than expected and a bigger authorization for share repurchases, the stock started to rise again. Then Starbucks impressed investors with its fiscal fourth-quarter results, which featured improvements in virtually all of Starbucks' key metrics. In addition, comparable-store sales growth, revenue, and earnings per share were all higher than management's expectations for the quarter.

Starbucks also made notable progress with creating more digital customer relationships in fiscal 2018. Active reward members in Q4 were up 15% year over year -- an acceleration from 14% growth in Q3. The company also added 10 million digitally registered customers, or non-rewards members that have a digital relationship with the company, during the fiscal year. 

Now what

While Starbucks' fourth-quarter results were solid, investors should look for more than one strong quarter to fully buy into the company's efforts to reinvigorate its business. But management is optimistic about its fiscal 2019, guiding for global comparable-store sales growth to be around 3.5%.

"In FY '19, you will begin to see some of the benefits from the significant actions taken in FY '18 to position Starbucks for the future," said former Starbucks CFO Scott Harlan Maw in the company's third-quarter earnings call. "We are confident that the momentum we saw in Q4 and what we believe to be a very strong beverage food and merchandise lineup for the upcoming holiday season will enable us to deliver a great start to the fiscal year."