One year ago, two Fools butted heads over caffeine peddler Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX). With the benefit of 52 weeks of hindsight, it's time to re-examine the arguments around the legendary high-growth phenom.

Meet the fighters
On the bullish side of the fence, fellow Fool Alyce Lomax carried the banner. She agreed when Starbucks management said that 12,000 locations were not enough, and even the new target of 30,000 locations might be too meek. The company had its sights set on China and other large international markets where it didn't yet have much of a footprint.

The brand name alone would be enough to protect Starbucks from the spirited advances of other coffee shops like Caribou Coffee (NASDAQ:CBOU) or Peet's (NASDAQ:PEET), and even other major foodies like McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) and Dunkin' Donuts should have a hard time stealing the Seattle roaster's customers thanks to the feel-good fuzzies you get from a Starbucks experience.

"Starbucks makes its customers feel good about frequenting its stores," said Alyce, "which often act as a relaxing oasis from the outside world. It provides health care and stock plans for its employees, and stewards socially responsible initiatives. Witness its environmentally friendly packaging and its acquisition of Ethos Water, which donates some proceeds to help provide clean water in Third World countries."

In short, Alyce saw the company pursuing plenty of promising growth strategies, and thought that Wall Street might underestimate Starbucks -- again.

And in the red corner ...
Chuck Saletta didn't agree at all. He thought that Starbucks had its best days behind it, and the heady growth of the past was bound to hit the brakes. Chuck pointed to the "amazing density" of Starbucks locations around some famous landmarks:



Number of Starbucks Outlets Within Two Miles

White House

Washington, D.C.


Sears Tower

Chicago, Ill.


Empire State Building

New York, N.Y.


Surely there was not much more room to grow with overpopulation like that?

Of course, you can grow in other ways than just building more stores. But Chuck said that "with same-store sales stagnating, the only option Starbucks really has for growth is to open more stores. At some point, something has to give."

In the end, our bearish battler conceded that Starbucks was an excellent company -- but "there's a world of difference, though, between an excellent company and an excellent investment." The value investor in him couldn't look past the risk of stagnation to justify the inflated stock valuation. "Unless it either grows into its current market cap, or stumbles its way to value territory, my money and I are staying away," he said.

And the winner is ...
When all was said and done, Alyce emerged from the rubble a jubilant victor. (Victoria?) Anyway, 72% of 452 voters took her bullish stance, versus 23% for Chuck and 5% undecided. That's a landslide win any day.

Our CAPS voters don't really agree, though. Starbucks is just a two-star stock today, based on a secret blend of market performance and input from more than 65,000 users. Our All-Star players (those with ratings higher than 80) are still more bullish on the stock, with one top player saying that it looked attractive at $30 per share back in March, and another slamming it because wholesale coffee prices are on the rise, but consumer salaries are not. Score one for Chuck, all in all.

The metric that many investors care about the most is market performance, though. On that front, Starbucks has lost nearly 23% of its value in the last year. Ouch. Sorry, Alyce, but it looks like your win has been overturned at day's end.

One more Fool
Starbucks is a very interesting company to follow -- the growth story is just awe-inspiring, even today. Remember that location chart above? Follow the links and you'll see 51 coffee shops around the White House today, 70 near the Sears Tower, and a whopping 138 within two miles of the Empire State Building.

My local Target (NYSE:TGT) has a Starbucks inside -- and they're building a freestanding 'Bux right outside the door. And the company has some market data to support that strategy, because that same combination has been in place just a few miles down State Road 54 for a couple of years now. Both of those shops always seem to have a line at the order counter, for whatever that local anecdote is worth.

Starbucks is still growing revenue faster than Peet's or Caribou, but not as quickly as Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR) or Diedrich Coffee (NASDAQ:DDRX). The stock is also cheaper than Peet's or Green Mountain on most of the traditional valuation metrics like P/E and enterprise value to EBIT -- and the other two aren't even profitable.

So the new Starbucks is a different beast than the one you saw when this battle was fought. The stock now looks cheap next to its growth prospects, and maybe even a habitual value hound like Chuck might like the stock these days -- or someday soon, if the slide continues. There's certainly not much wrong with the company itself.

Further Foolishness in the rearview mirror:

Starbucks is a seasoned resident of the market-stomping scorecard at Motley Fool Stock Advisor. Read all about it with a free 30-day trial pass -- regular or decaf, with or without cream and sugar. Anders likes his with a shot of hazelnut syrup.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Caribou got him hooked on coffee, and Starbucks feeds his need today. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure goes great with a half-caff, triple-shot, soymilk Orange Mocha Frappucino. Oh, yeah.