International coffee giant Starbucks (SBUX 0.24%) is set to report fourth-quarter earnings on Oct. 28. The company is gaining momentum as economies are reopening worldwide. When people leave their homes more often, more occasions arise to visit a Starbucks to pick up a hot or cold beverage. 

There has been some good news as the world progresses in the fight against COVID-19. Millions of doses of vaccine are being administered daily, and people feel more comfortable meeting up with friends or colleagues for a cup of coffee. Still, there is a long road to travel before Starbucks is back to full strength.

Investors are hoping this latest report provides an update on how the restaurant is managing the changes. Here's what they should be looking for on Thursday.

Person in car looking at phone and drinking coffee.

Image source: Getty Images.

Starbucks is moving in the right direction

When the pandemic hit, fewer people were permitted to go inside a Starbucks to buy and enjoy a beverage indoors. The company thrives on people coming together at its locations to catch up over a cup of coffee. It's no surprise, then, that Starbucks revenue declined by 11.3% in fiscal 2020.

Interestingly, because Starbucks is a global coffee chain, and the coronavirus pandemic has had varying effects at different times across different regions. It created a situation where the adverse effects of the pandemic hit Starbucks sequentially rather than all at once. The same is true for its rebound as economies are reopening, some parts of the world (like the U.S.) are further ahead in reopening than other regions. 

Even in the U.S., however, the company is not quite back to full strength. A large part of its business, the morning commute, is still behind because millions of people are still working from home. Small businesses and corporations have started calling employees back to the office, even if it is only a few days per week. Investors will want to hear from management if that has had a meaningful effect on Starbucks' revenue. 

Moreover, during Starbucks' Q4 millions of students began returning to classrooms. The return of students could present more occasions for Starbucks beverage sales (parents driving their kids to school and stopping for a Starbucks on their way home, for instance). Additionally, the few hundred Starbucks locations on college campuses can reopen and generate revenue from students looking for a jolt to help with their studies. 

The rise of the delta variant held back Starbucks stock

Analysts on Wall Street expect Starbucks to report Q4 revenue of $8.23 billion and earnings per share (EPS) of $1.00. If the company hits those estimates, it would be increases of 32.3% and 96%, respectively, from the same time last year.

Starbucks' stock price is up about 7.2% year to date in 2021 but down about 9% in the last three months. The rise in COVID-19 infections late in the summer raised investor concerns about the pace of reopening momentum. It also pushed back several large corporations' plans to bring employees back to offices.

Starbucks stock is trading at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 31, near the lowest of the last two years. Management is expecting to provide fiscal 2022 guidance in the Q4 earnings announcement. If it sounds optimistic about its prospects heading into the new fiscal year, it could boost the stock.