Starbucks In Mug

Only on Wall Street.

Global coffee behemoth Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is seeing its stock trade lower in after hours after reporting record fourth-quarter and fiscal-year sales and earnings. So it goes when your performance -- while admirable in its own right -- falls short of Wall Street analyst expectations for sales, and only meets -- and not exceeds -- earnings-per-share forecasts.

Even with an earnings release that falls short on a few things, there's a lot of good stuff happening. In this article earlier in the week, I pointed out three key things that were important to look for when Starbucks reported earnings. How'd the company do? Let's take a closer look. 

EMEA looking better 
One of the few places where Starbucks has never really done well is in Europe, which is part of the EMEA, or Europe, Middle East, and Africa, business unit. Last quarter, comps, or comparable same-store sales, were up 3%, about half of Starbucks' other stores.

However, comps increased to 5% in the fourth quarter, a solid improvement, especially as much of Europe's economy continues to struggle. Even better, operating margin in the segment increased from 9.3% to 12.1%, driving operating income up 42% in the quarter. EMEA's operating margins have historically been a challenge for Starbucks, so seeing this increase is a definite positive. 

Looking ahead, management is expecting EMEA to produce operating margins in the 10%-12% range in 2015, a strong step forward from the high single-digit results of recent quarters. Part of this is being driven by expanding the role of licensed stores in the region versus company-owned stores. 

Asian growth getting accelerated 
Last quarter, Starbucks CFO Scott Maw said the company was planning for 800 new stores in the CAP -- or China Asia Pacific -- segment in 2015, and that number was increased to 850 according to the Q4 release. Combined with the recent acquisition of full ownership in the company's Japanese franchises -- a move that will add $1 billion in revenue to the top line in 2015 -- it's pretty obvious where the company sees the best potential for growth. 

Here's a stat that emphasizes this: Starbucks has 4,624 company-owned and licensed stores in CAP today. Adding another 850 next year represents 18% growth in its store count in one of the most populous and fastest-growing regions of the world. This also represents more than half of its rather aggressive plans to open 1,650 net new stores next year. 

Financial stuff and Americas 
Comps growth in the Americas remains strong, at 6% growth this past quarter, while sales increased 9% when new store revenue is factored in. Further, the company continues to refine its operations, improving margin to 24.4% in the quarter. Lower coffee costs also helped improve margins, as did higher prices versus last year. While Starbucks raised the stakes in Asia, and increased the planned store opening count for next year, it held steady with plans to open 650 in the Americas. 

From an earnings perspective, this has been the best year in the company's history. Earnings per share came in at $2.71. When adjusted for the big charge it took for its Kraft litigation, they improved 21%, on 10% sales growth. The company increased the dividend 23%, as well, and is producing enough cash to fund the dividend, store expansion, and the share buyback. Management bought 10.5 million shares in 2014, and has approval to buy back up to 16 million more going forward. 

Looking ahead 
If the after-hours results hold true -- the stock is down about 5% -- Starbucks shares will probably be down on Friday. Whether they are or not, what's important is to look at the total performance of the company, and not get too caught up in the fact that it missed Wall Street's revenue target by less than 2%. 

What does matter? Looking ahead, Starbucks has a pretty aggressive growth plan, but so far has demonstrated a remarkable ability to execute on that plan. This past quarter, comps came in higher than 5% for the 19th consecutive quarter -- that's almost five years of consistent comps growth at a high level.

What does that tell us? Starbucks customers are happy and loyal and, as we saw this year, the company can increase its prices as its costs go up, and not lose business. 

Based on the market potential and the current rate of expansion, it seems like much better than average odds that the company can continue to grow sales at or higher than 10% per year, and earnings per share at a higher rate for years to come.

Jason Hall owns shares of Apple, Starbucks, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Starbucks, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Starbucks, and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.