After an uneven performance in fiscal 2018 -- punctuated by a racial-bias incident at a cafe in Philadelphia and a sales setback in China -- Starbucks (SBUX -0.08%) returned to strong growth in fiscal 2019. On Wednesday, the company reported that it closed out the fiscal year with another excellent performance in the fourth quarter.
Starbucks stock doubled between mid-2018 and late July of this year as investors responded to this comeback. The shares peaked just shy of the $100 mark over the summer.
However, Starbucks stock has since receded to around $85. That pullback, combined with the company's continuing momentum, makes this a great opportunity for long-term investors to buy shares of the global coffee giant.
Another great quarter for Starbucks
Three months ago, Starbucks reported a 6% comp-sales increase for the third quarter of fiscal 2019, including 7% growth in the U.S. and 6% growth in China. That helped drive a 26% increase in adjusted earnings per share.
However, this strong performance came with a caveat: Starbucks was facing extremely easy year-over-year comparisons. The racial-bias incident and the peak of the disruption to its business in China both came in Q3 of fiscal 2018. As a result, total comp sales had inched up just 1% in that quarter, with 1% growth in the U.S. and a 2% decline in China.
By contrast, Starbucks posted a respectable 3% comp-sales gain in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2018, with comp sales up 4% in the U.S. and up 1% in China. Despite this tougher comparison, Starbucks maintained a strong growth rate last quarter, delivering 5% comp-sales growth globally, including a 6% increase in the U.S. and 5% growth in China. The company also expanded its global store count by about 7% over the past year, driving 10% revenue growth on an organic basis.
As a result, adjusted earnings per share (EPS) reached $0.70 last quarter, up 13% year over year. For the full year, adjusted EPS soared 17%, to $2.83, with favorable tax items boosting EPS growth by about 7 percentage points. Thus, organic EPS growth came in at 10% for the full year, despite headwinds from Starbucks licensing its high-margin consumer packaged goods and foodservice business to Nestle and significant wage increases.
Solid guidance for fiscal 2020
Starbucks' initial guidance for fiscal 2020 calls for comparable-store sales to rise 3% to 4%. The company also plans to open about 2,000 new stores on top of its existing base of 31,256 stores (as of the end of Q4). As a result, the company expects revenue to rise 6% to 8% from last year's $21.5 billion.
Meanwhile, Starbucks expects to reverse some of the margin deterioration it experienced during fiscal 2019. That should enable it to grow operating income 8% to 10% this year. The company projects that adjusted EPS will rise to between $3.00 and $3.05, up 6% to 8% year over year. However, adjusting for the one-time tax items that boosted earnings last year, this guidance implies 11% to 13% growth in adjusted EPS.
Despite this favorable outlook, Starbucks stock barely budged following the company's earnings report. This may be because the analyst consensus was calling for adjusted EPS to reach $3.08 in fiscal 2020. That said, Starbucks beat its revenue and earnings forecasts in fiscal 2019 -- even excluding the benefit from a lower-than-expected tax rate -- and could easily do so again in the coming year.
Starbucks stock looks attractive
Based on the midpoint of the company's guidance range, Starbucks stock trades for 28 times forward earnings. While that's certainly not cheap, it's a significant improvement compared to a few months ago. And in light of Starbucks' ample long-term growth prospects, the stock now looks like a great buy for long-term investors.
For example, Starbucks is just scratching the surface in terms of rolling out fast delivery. This could be a significant growth driver over the next few years, particularly in China. Additionally, Starbucks' new coffee partnership with Nestle offers tons of long-term upside, as the latter will be able to use its global distribution prowess to boost sales of Starbucks products outside of the company's cafes. The Starbucks Reserve brand represents another long-term growth play that's just in its infancy right now.
These growth drivers give Starbucks a good chance to achieve its goal of producing double-digit EPS gains for many years to come. If it succeeds, Starbucks stock could pay off in a big way for patient investors.