Looking at Starbucks(Nasdaq: SBUX), you'd never guess that the economy is shaky or that consumer confidence is at a nine-year low. You'd never discern that many other retailers are struggling to maintain sales growth.

The purveyor of all things coffee has had a blistering year and doesn't intend to slow down soon.

At its biennial analyst and investor conference yesterday, the company said fiscal fourth-quarter earnings will be $0.15 a share, higher by a penny than its own estimate but in line with Street expectations. That puts year-end earnings at $0.55, excluding one-time items, and $0.54 including them.

For fiscal 2003, it anticipates earning between $0.65 and $0.66 a share. That would be right in keeping with its projected earnings-per-share annual growth target of 20% to 25%. It also plans to keep growing annual revenues at a 20% clip.

How on earth does it plan to maintain this growth? Well, let's put it this way -- if you think there are a lot of Starbucks now, just wait. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Starbucks has said it eventually plans to have 25,000 locations worldwide, and it's sticking to it. That's a 5,000-store increase from its projection just two years ago. Clearly, it sees an expanding market, as it continues to plop down locations in places as disparate as China, Greece, and Mexico. One day, it hopes to have 15,000 overseas locations.

And the growth won't only happen abroad. The company says it has set up shop in only 150 of the largest 300 American markets. It's not leaving out the little guys, either, as it intends to add stores in rural areas. Getting a local Starbucks appears to be an equal-opportunity proposition.

Currently, there are over 5,000 Starbucks scattered across the globe. The company plans to open 1,200 in fiscal 2003 and 10,000 by the end of fiscal 2005 -- in 60 countries. That's absolutely intoxicating growth -- if the company can pull it off.

Starbucks hasn't disappointed the Street in recent memory, outside of that Internet foolishness a few years ago. Its stock has almost always traded at a P/E above its anticipated earnings growth rate, a premium investors keep paying for -- currently a hefty 45 times earnings. To maintain this in the future, it will be critical for the company to grow smartly and keep costs in check. This will be much more challenging with a monstrous store base, but Starbucks isn't known for backing down from challenges, and it's certainly not known for failing.

Disclosure: LouAnn Lofton owns shares of Starbucks but admits no addiction to its coffee. She can stop anytime. Really.