Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) stock is truly on fire lately. Shares of the coffee emporium have gained more than 50% in the past 12 months, crushing the S&P index and its return of nearly 9% over the same period. This puts Starbucks stock at historical highs in the neighborhood of $58 per share.
Investors typically have ambivalent feelings when a stock rises so steeply. On one hand, the business must be performing really well if the stock is firing on all cylinders, and this is clearly the case when it comes to Starbucks and its caffeinated financial performance. However, nobody wants to arrive too late to the party, buying at sky-high prices when the trend is about to change.
Is it a good time to buy Starbucks stock, or is the best already in the past for investors in the company?
Steaming hot numbers
When looking at the company's performance, it's really no wonder Starbucks stock is doing so well. Total revenue grew 18% during the third quarter of fiscal 2015, with global comparable sales jumping 7% year over year. Starbucks has sustained comparable sales growth of more than 5% annually over the past 22 quarters, quite an outstanding track record of consistency over time.
Growth rates are in fact quite vigorous across the board. Comparable-store sales in the Americas region grew 8% in the last quarter on the back of a 4% increase in transactions and a similar jump in the average ticket. Comps in Asia-Pacific did even better, with comparable sales growth of 11%, driven mostly by a 10% increase in transactions. Comparable sales in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region grew 3%, with the average ticket increasing by 1% and the amount of comparable transactions growing 2%.
Sales growth at the store level is a major plus for investors in Starbucks, since it has positive implications when it comes to profit margins. Operating income grew 22% year over year last quarter, while operating margin as a percentage of sales expanded 70 basis points, from 18.5% to 19.2% of revenue.
This combination of vigorous sales growth and expanding profit margin is proving to be a powerful driver for Starbucks, allowing the company to deliver adjusted earnings-per-share growth of 24% last quarter. This kind of growth and consistency is really quite exceptional for a company operating in such a competitive and dynamic industry.
Is it too late to buy?
Even in mature markets such as the U.S., Starbucks keeps delivering impressive growth rates, as new store openings aren't cannibalizing sales at previously existing locations. This speaks wonders about the company's brand strength and its ability to sustain growth via product innovation over the long term. Also, Starbucks is gaining traction among customers at lunch and afternoon times thanks to a broadening portfolio of foods and drinks.
The company has ambitious plans for store base expansion in the Asia-Pacific region, a market offering enormous opportunities for growth. Management is planning to nearly double its store base in China to over 3,000 stores by 2019, versus approximately 1,700 units across 90 cities in mainland China today.
Starbucks intends to generate approximately $30 billion in global revenue by fiscal 2019, a big increase from nearly $16 billion in fiscal 2014. This is an ambitious target, but certainly not out of reach considering the company's fundamental strengths and management's proven ability to deliver.
The stock trades at a considerable premium versus the overall market, though: Starbucks carries a P/E ratio of 32, versus an average valuation in the neighborhood of 19 for companies in the S&P 500 index. Starbucks clearly deserves an above-average valuation on the back of its superior quality and growth prospects; however, it's worth noting that Starbucks is priced for demanding expectations, and this can always be a source of risk if there is any disappointment down the road.
It's certainly not too late to buy Starbucks stock, as everything indicates that the company still offers considerable room for growth over the middle and long term. Investors looking to build a position may want to be patient, though. Buying partial positions at different prices over time could be a smarter idea than jumping all in at current valuation levels.