Starbucks: Better Than Your Average (Cup Of) Joe

| About: Starbucks Corporation (SBUX)


SBUX is undervalued based on DCF, Abnormal Earnings Model, and EV/EBITDA methods of valuation.

Liquidity, credit, and solvency ratios indicate that the company is relatively healthy and will support future growth.

Lack of detail in accounting information, coupled with management incentives to drive up operating income, is a potential red flag for earnings manipulation.

Revenue growth in the U.S. may temper somewhat due to possible market saturation, intensifying competition, and changing consumer preferences.

Analyst team members: Thomas Barfield, Jenny Cale, Zachary Maxwell, Payton Scott

1. Executive Summary

Starbucks Corporation (NASDAQ: SBUX) is the leading retailer and brand in the coffee industry. As the U.S. coffee market is relatively mature, management must remain committed to enhancing the customer experience at scale, extending the Starbucks Experience with digital capabilities, focusing on China (a key growth market), extending the Starbucks brand outside of stores (via the at-home and ready-to-drink coffee markets), and using the company’s scale for good.

In analyzing Starbucks financial statements, there are incentives for managers to manipulate earnings. Specifically, the revenue recognition policies seem to accurately reflect revenue except for the Loyalty Program’s star redemption. Starbucks accrues deferred revenue and then recognizes revenue when stars are redeemed; however, real money is never paid for these drinks so this may inflate revenue upwards. Additionally, there is significant ambiguity about Starbucks’ SG&A, inventory costing methods, and stock based compensation estimates. Overall, Starbucks lacks disclosure of accounting information that would boost the accuracy of their financials.

Historically, Starbucks’ return on equity has been driven by increasing financial leverage and profit margins. Since 2012, Starbucks has a positive trend of increasing return on equity and liquidity ratios which indicates that management is managing risk well. Additionally, Starbucks’ asset turnover has remained relatively stable. Through looking at an alternative disaggregation of returns on equity, shareholders have not always benefited from Starbucks’ leverage; but in recent years, leverage has been managed well and have magnified returns on equity. Overall, Starbucks has high credit quality due to the nature of retail upfront payments and their interest coverage ratio of about 50.

Valuation under all discounted cash flow, residual income, and EV/EBITDA models indicates a share price that is higher than the current market price. Even under a bearish case, the Starbucks has a potential upside of over 8%. This indicates that Starbucks is undervalued by the market. Based on all these factors, we recommend a long position in Starbucks.

2. Business Analysis

2.1. A Brief Introduction

Starbucks Corporation is a specialty coffee retailer, roaster, and marketer. Starbucks operates in 75 countries and has about 26,000 retail stores globally. The company was founded in 1971 in Seattle, Washington by Howard Schultz and today has about 170,000 employees. The Starbucks brand has a global presence and stores are typically located in high-traffic, high-visibility locations such as retail centers, university campuses, and office buildings. Although the Starbucks brand was built on coffee, the company has developed new product lines and has continued to expand their business outside of coffee. Today, their product mix is comprised of high-quality coffee beverages, teas, other beverages and a variety of fresh food items. In addition to the flagship Starbucks Coffee brand, Starbucks markets its products across other brand names such as Tazo, Starbucks VIA, and Seattle’s Best Coffee. The most recent addition to the Starbucks brand is the opening of Starbucks Reserve stores that strive to provide a high-end coffee experience to customers in urban areas.

In 2016, Starbucks’ total net revenues increased 11% to $21.3 billion. Sales over the past five years have grown due to a rise in global store sales, which consequently increased the number of transactions by customers and higher average spending per transaction. Additionally, Starbucks expanded product line has attracted higher foot traffic to store locations. Although Starbucks is the market leader at 43.3% of overall market share, Dunkin’ Brands Inc. (NASDAQ: DNKN) is the closest major competitor at 22.1%. The remaining 34.6% of market share is captured by other firms. Looking forward, revenue growth may temper somewhat due to possible market saturation, intensifying competition, and changing consumer preferences.

2.2. Business Model and Corporate Strategy

Starbucks segments their global brand into two divisions: company-operated stores and licensed stores. As a percentage of total stores, company-operated stores and licensed stores account for 51% and 49%, respectively. In 2016, revenue from company-operated stores accounted for 79% of total net revenues. Licensed stores accounted for 10% of total net revenues as they generally have a lower gross margin and higher operating margins when compared to company-operated stores. Management’s goal is to become the leading retailer and brand of coffee and tea while providing each customer with a unique Starbucks Experience. The Starbucks Experience is maintained by providing superior customer service which consequently builds a high degree of customer loyalty.

Starbucks generates the majority of their revenues via their Americas operating segment, which accounted for 69% of total revenues in 2016. Across their product lines, beverage comprised 74% of the sales mix while food was the next largest percentage at 19%. Management has a clear vision of continued expansion across product lines and operating segments. The second largest operating segment is the China/Asia Pacific (CAP) segment which accounted for 14% of revenues. In the fiscal year of 2016, Starbucks opened 389 stores in the CAP segment for a total of 2,811 open stores. In the Americas segment, a net 456 stores were opened for a total of 6,588 open stores.

2.3 Industry Competitive Analysis

There is a strong rivalry among existing competitors. Buyers can find coffee and other beverage offerings with similar quality and price. The “Big Three” players of the AFH (Away From Home) coffee market are Starbucks, McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD), and Dunkin’ Donuts as they are the top three stores visited by customers for a coffee, tea, or drink. Within the industry, there is significant competition and primary competition comes from specialty coffee shops and quick-service restaurants. The industry is competitive across the dimensions of product quality, innovation, service, convenience, and price. The market for U.S. packaged coffee and tea and single-serve and ready-to-drink coffee beverage market has seen increased competition and management acknowledges that the profitability of their Channel Development segment could be affected. Management recognizes that the firm faces significant and increasing competition in all markets and channels.

In regard to supplier power, the primary inputs of Starbucks’ value chain rely on standard inputs that have low switching costs. Starbucks engages in fixed-priced and price-to-be-fixed purchase commitments, and management believes that the risk of non-delivery on purchase commitments is remote. Additionally, sales of ground or whole bean coffee in retail are relatively flat due to the overall saturation and maturity of the market. There is a large overall supply of coffee and high variety of existing suppliers so suppliers have a low bargaining power.

Because revenues are driven by customer demand (largely in the Americas operating segment), customers have strong bargaining power. Decreases in customer traffic and/or average value per transaction can materially impact earnings. Management acknowledges the importance of providing a consistently positive customer experience in order to maintain consumer trust and brand value.

Switching costs are relatively low for consumers, so there is a high threat of substitutes. Customers can purchase different beverages such as soda, water, or smoothies. Additionally, consumer preference for other products could have a negative effect to the firm’s business.

Starbucks faces a relatively moderate threat of new entrants. There are low barriers to entry so new competitors are not discouraged to enter the market. The industry overall is moderately saturated and initial investment costs can be relatively low for new entrants (as equipment and store space can be leased). However, large firms like Starbucks have achieved economies of scale and brand recognition that may make it difficult for smaller, local coffee shops to remain competitive.

2.4 Critical Success Factors

CSF - Continued Growth: Starbucks has clear strategic initiatives that are designed to create growth, improve operating results and drive long-term shareholder value. These strategic initiatives include: being an employer of choice, building the company leadership around coffee, increasing the scale of Starbucks stores globally, creating new product offerings, continuing global growth of the Channel Develop business, delivering continued growth through the Teavana tea brand, and driving convenience and brand engagement through mobile, loyal and digital capabilities. Starbucks is committed to managing growth by meeting these seven key strategic initiatives and strives to consistently supply high-quality raw materials and provide a high quality product and customer experience.

CSF - Managing Commodity Exposure: Starbucks counteracts their commodity price risk by hedging the commodities with financial instruments. Although these commodity price increases will also affect the coffee industry overall, Starbucks also frequently enters into supply contracts called price-to-be-fixed contracts. These contracts allow Starbucks to negotiate terms such as the quality, quantity and delivery period are set, but the fixed contract “C” price will be established later. Starbucks is able to partially mitigate future price risk through purchasing and hedging activities; however, these price risks will also affect competition and the industry overall.

CSF - Strong Brand Recognition: Starbucks is committed to building brand equity outside of stores. Thus far, corporate strategy has allowed Starbucks products to be distributed in more than 50 countries around the world and introduced new significant partnerships in 2016 (Anheuser-Busch will launch ready-to-drink Teavana cold tea beverages; Chinese regional partner Tingyi Holding Corporation is distributing ready-to-drink Frappuccino bottled beverages). Looking forward, Starbucks will continue to invest in unique partnerships to expand brand equity beyond the United States.

3. Accounting Analysis

3.1. Management Incentives

Starbucks executives have incentives to distort accounting numbers. Their 2016 Proxy Statement outlines their executive compensation policies, which rely heavily on performance-based compensation. Executives have an “annual incentive bonus” as a component of their compensation, which is paid out based on the company’s financial performance, particularly revenue and operating income. Below is the calculation for the yearly bonus pulled directly from their 2016 proxy statement.

Source: Starbucks 2016 Proxy Statement

Executives have financial incentives to manipulate both the adjusted net revenue and operating income numbers, given that their bonuses increase directly as those numbers do. The majority of executive compensation comes in the form of restricted stock units (RSUs) and stock options. This also gives executives incentive to drive up Starbucks’ stock price, which could be done by manipulating earnings or other accounting numbers. All employees that are with the company for at least 90 days are eligible for a discounted stock purchase program. Although unlikely, lower-level managers could try to distort their accounting numbers in order to boost the stock price. However, these risks are relevant for any business with stock-based compensation.

3.2 Qualitative and Quantitative Red Flags

Overall, management turnover has been low. Starbucks had a CFO change in 2014, but the management change was internal as the former CFO was promoted to a newly-created COO position. The current CFO, Scott Maw, was also promoted from within the company. Additionally, Starbucks has used the same auditor for more than 10 years, which reduces the risk for accounting fraud.

Earnings and free cash flow have persistently moved together, except in FY 2013 (ended September 2014). Free cash flow per share was negative despite strong earnings. This was due to a $2.7B settlement paid to Mondelez International after arbitration over a breached contract.

Image created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

3.3 Accounting flexibility and adjustments

Starbucks’ revenue recognition policies seem to accurately reflect revenue earned. The largest revenue segment is from company-operated stores. Revenue is recognized net of sales and other taxes when payment is received at the point of sale. This revenue recognition policy leaves little to no room for revenue manipulation. For the CPG, Foodservice, and Other Revenues segment, revenue is recognized at delivery with appropriate allowance accounts. For licensed-stores, revenue recognition is similar, except that shipping costs are recognized as revenue (and the subsequent expense is recognized as cost of sales). Revenues could be inflated upward by overstating shipping costs, but overall, shipping costs account for a small percentage of total revenue. Therefore, there is little to no room for upward revenue recognition that would materially impact earnings.

One exception is the Loyalty Program segment. Members of the program earn “stars” as rewards, and Starbucks classifies the estimated value of the stars as deferred revenue. When stars are redeemed, Starbucks recognizes revenue and reduces the deferred revenue liability. Because customers are not giving Starbucks money directly for these reward redemptions, recognizing them as revenue could inflate revenue upwards. It should be noted, however, that the Loyalty Program comprises a small portion of total revenue.

All expenses fall under two categories: cost of sales (including occupancy costs) and store operating expenses. There is significant concern that these numbers could be manipulated and change earnings substantially. First, inventory costing methods for the cost of sales expense are not described. There is no mention of FIFO, LIFO, or any other costing method anywhere in the 10-K. Management only states that inventories are reported at lower of cost or market value. Therefore, there is significant room here for managers to use their own discretion and choose which inventory costing method best suits the company for that time. Managers could even choose different methods for different segments, time frames, or geographical locations. Starbucks should add more detail in their 10-K about inventory costing as well as the other components of the cost of sales expense to increase transparency.

General and administrative expenses are the third-largest operating expense, accounting for around 7.7% of total operating expenses. Similar to other expense accounts, there is ambiguity over what is included in the G&A expense account. The only component listed in the 10-K regarding this account is changes to the Management Deferred Compensation Plan liability, which likely does not make up very much of overall G&A.

Starbucks impairs long-lived assets if they determine the carrying value of may not be recoverable. In order to test for impairment, Starbucks compares the carrying value to the undiscounted estimated future cash flows, which is consistent with GAAP requirements. The discounted cash flow model to estimate fair value requires management’s judgement of projected revenues, operating expenses, the useful lives of assets, and discount rates. Because revenue projections for company operated stores are based on "historical performance, the local market economics, and the business environment," revenue estimates may be biased. All of the assumptions that determine the fair value and cash flows of assets are subjective to management bias, especially in regard to increasing operating income. Impairment expenses are either consolidated into operating expenses for retail operations or cost of sales for all other assets. Net impairment charges were $24.1 million in 2016.

Starbucks has several different types of equity incentive plans for their employees. For stock-based compensation, Starbucks calculates the fair value of each stock option granted using a Black-Scholes-Merton option valuation model. Starbucks “evaluates and revises” the assumptions in the model to reflect market conditions and historical experience, yet they do not disclose the individual components of the model.

Starbucks has both operating leases and lease financing arrangements, but the majority are operating leases. The operating leases allow Starbucks to record rent expense, rather than assets and liabilities on the balance sheet. The minimum operating lease payments are listed below (in millions).















Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

The present value of these payments is not disclosed, so the exact amount of off-balance sheet financing that the firm engages in cannot be determined. However, the $7.3 billion in total will have to be reclassified as liabilities when the new accounting standard for leases becomes effective. This will provide investors with a more accurate picture of Starbuck’s credit risk, as these lease obligations are essentially debt. Management noted that “the adoption will result in a material increase in the assets and liabilities on consolidated balance sheets." However, the adoption will "likely have an insignificant impact on consolidated statements of earnings.”

Overall, Starbucks has a low level of transparency in financial statements, particularly when it comes to expenses. Three accounts, 1) cost of sales, 2) store operating expenses, and 3) general and administrative expenses, account for over 91% of total expenses; however, there is little to no detail about what comprises these accounts. Coupled with strong incentives for executives to drive up operating income, this lack of detail is a red flag.

3.4 Measuring CSFs and the Impact of Accounting Quality

CSF - Continued Growth: Starbucks' expansion and growth can be measured by revenue. Starbucks revenue growth over the past five years has averaged 13%, with 11% growth over 2016. Also, Starbucks opens thousands of new locations every year, resulting in almost 9% growth in the number of stores in 2016. In the fiscal year of 2016, Starbucks opened 389 stores in the CAP segment for a total of 2,811 open stores. In the Americas segment, a net 456 stores were opened for a total of 6,588 open stores.

CSF - Managing Commodity Exposure: Exposure to commodity prices can be measured through cost of goods sold and profit margins. Margins increased 80 basis points from 2015 to 2016, of which 40 basis points were due to lower commodity costs. For hedging contracts, management provides a sensitivity analysis to show the effect on net earnings of a 10% upward and downward price movement on the underlying commodity. Over the past three years, the amount has tripled, which indicates an increasing exposure to commodity price volatility.

CSF - Strong Brand Recognition: Brand recognition is the most difficult of the three CSFs to measure with accounting information due to its subjective nature. However, continued growth, particularly in same-store sales and the China segment, shows that Starbucks’ brand is healthy and continuing to attract customers.

4. Financial Analysis

4.1 Profitability Analysis – DuPont Disaggregation






























Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Return on equity dropped sharply in 2013 from 27.09% to 0.18%. The reason for the significant decrease in profit margin in 2013 (and subsequent rebound in 2014) was due to a lawsuit settlement of $2.79B with Mondelez International. The decline in profit margin shows the magnitude of such an impact on Starbucks’ ROE. Since 2013, Starbucks has improved their ROE and this is largely due to increasing profit margin. While asset turnover has remained relatively stable, financial has increased. In 2013, when profit margins were significantly lower than average, the high financial leverage ratio improved ROE. Therefore, it is important that Starbucks management maintain (or improve on) profit margins, manage their financial leverage well, and improve asset turnover to increase ROE.

4.2 Profitability Analysis - An Alternate Disaggregation












Operating ROA






Net borrowing cost












Net financial leverage






Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Assuming that operating cash is 10% of revenue, operating ROA has increased since 2013 to 28.22% in 2016. The improvement in operating ROA is positive because this is a signal that the inherent profitability of Starbucks’ business has improved since 2013. Net borrowing costs were calculated as net after-tax interest income as a percentage of net debt. The difference between spread and operating ROA provides the spread. In 2012, the spread was negative and net financial leverage was positive, which means that shareholders earned less because Starbucks’ felt the burden of debt. In 2013, both the spread and net financial leverage were negative which was a unique occurrence for the firm. Since 2013, both the spread and net financial leverage have increased year over year to 27.74% and 64.03% in 2016, respectively. A positive spread and net financial leverage indicates that shareholders earn more and therefore demonstrates Starbucks’ high ability to provide its shareholders value.

Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Starbucks has a very favorable interest coverage ratio that has averaged around 50 for the past four years. This indicates that the company has a strong ability to meet interest payments in the near future. Additionally, Starbucks has a debt to equity ratio that is consistently under 1, which demonstrates that they are not overly levered. However, this ratio has trended upward over the past 5 years and should be continually monitored.

Image created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

The company was upgraded to an “A” rating by S&P almost a year ago. The latest bond issuance was rated A3 by Moody’s, which indicates rather safe debt and shows that the company is in solid standing financially.

Starbucks current ratio has been consistently above 1. This demonstrates the, company’s strong ability to pay off current liabilities if it liquidated its current assets. Starbucks' current ratio is above the average operating ratio for retail competitors because they receive customer payments at point-of-sale and can negotiate more favorable terms from suppliers. The quick ratio has trended upward over the past few years which is a positive sign; however, a quick ratio above 1 would provide Starbucks with more liquidity. Overall, Starbucks is relatively healthy in terms of liquidity and credit quality.

4.4. CSFs Analysis

CSF - Continued Growth: ROE has increased since 2012 which indicates that Starbucks has increased value to shareholders. Financial leverage has increased as a result of expansion and growth investments, and is being managed well. Although profit margin has increased since a low of 0.05% in 2013, Starbucks revenue growth over the past five years has averaged over 11%. Overall, Starbucks is growing, but it needs to boost revenue growth back to meet or exceed the average. Additionally, Starbucks has healthy liquidity, credit, and financial metrics that will support growth going forward.

CSF - Managing Commodity Exposure: Commodity price exposure can be measured through cost of goods sold and profit margins. Profit margin has increased but management must continue to improve margins to consequently improve return on equity.

CSF - Strong Brand Recognition: The strong growth in store openings is likely to continue to drive brand recognition worldwide. Starbucks must maintain brand equity worldwide. Additionally, charitable causes can promote brand value. For example, the firm participates in ethical sourcing, such as the Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practice, that aims to ensure that Starbucks coffee is 100% ethically sourced.

5. Prospective Analysis

5.1 Forecasting Condensed Financial Statements

Base Case

Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Revenue growth decreased significantly from almost 12% to about 6% in the FY 2016 10-K. Due to this shift in growth, our expectations going forward reflect increased competition and lower growth rates. However, we expect the revenue growth rate to increase back to about 10% over the next 5 years. We expect the profit margin steadily increase by 0.25% as Starbucks continues to utilize economies of scale. Operating working capital has historically been very low and is expected to remain very low going forward. For the optimistic scenario, we increased the base scenario for revenue growth by 0.25% each year. For the pessimistic scenario, we decreased revenue growth 0.25% relative to the base case for each year. Profit margins are projected to increase. Net debt to capital is projected to remain stable, and net long term assets to sales is projected to increase slightly per the historical trend for 5 year horizon.

5.2 Estimating Cost of Capital

Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Starbucks estimated cost of capital is 8.66%. This is based on a cost of debt of about 2% which comprises a 5% weight in the capital structure, and a cost of equity of about 9% which comprises a 95% weight in the capital structure. Starbucks has no preferred stock. The cost of equity calculation used the market risk premium based on Bloomberg’s estimate of the market risk premium and the risk free rate based on the 10 year U.S. Treasury. The adjusted beta of 0.96 is a 5 year beta value from Bloomberg. The cost of debt was estimated based last year’s interest expense, interest bearing debt, and effective tax rate.

5.3 Cash Flow-based Valuation

The terminal growth rate for Starbucks depends greatly on the industry and competition that Starbucks will face in the future. Over the past two decades, Starbucks and the specialty-coffee industry has enjoyed large sustained growth that has recently turned negative in 2009 and slightly positive in the past couple of years. The specialty market has become over-saturated with competitors and large numbers of stores; however, Starbucks maintains its competitive advantage through its brand loyalty and international growth. Because of these factors, a long-term growth rate of 2% is appropriate for the slowed growth of the market and the long-term risks associated with the coffee commodity market.

We found the following valuations for the stock price of Starbucks using the cash flow-based valuation method in our different scenarios:




Stock price per share




Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Base Case

Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Pessimistic Case

Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Optimistic Case

Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

5.4 Residual Income-based Valuation

Under the residual income valuation method, we found a slightly higher valuation across our different cases than we found in the cash flow-based valuation method:




Stock price per share




Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Base Case

Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Pessimistic Case

Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Optimistic Case

5.5 Market Multiples-based Valuation

Table created by authors using data from SEC EDGAR database.

Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s are Starbucks’ primary competitors when it comes to the coffee market. These companies are considered the “Big Three” players of the AFH (Away From Home) coffee as they are the top three stores visited by customers for a coffee, tea, or drink and participate in the same global markets. The size, scope and location of the Dunkin’ and McDonald’s parallel with Starbucks’ business and markets. All of the following data was found using the most current market data for equity values and the most recent 10-K information for all other calculations.

Using the multiples method of valuation, we found that Starbuck’s price per share is $60.73 by averaging the two EV/EBITDA multiples of Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds.

Conclusion and Recommendation

After analyzing Starbucks from business, accounting, financial, and prospective factors, we believe the market is undervaluing Starbucks. Although Starbucks' growth is expected to take a be lower than average this year, Starbucks brand, customer loyalty, and bargaining power provide it a very competitive position in the industry. The Starbucks Experience will continue to draw in new customers and keep loyal customers coming back year after year, and store openings (both domestic and abroad) show a commitment to growth. Starbucks' financial statements do not disclose detailed accounting information and leave room for speculation of several accounting flexibilities or manipulations. By using conservative projections relative to the street, we have taken this possibility into our prospective analysis, which suggests that Starbucks is undervalued. Additionally, Starbucks has a strong financial position in terms of margins, returns, and liquidity. Using a DCF, residual income, and EV/EBITDA valuation, Starbucks is undervalued by the market, and even under conservative assumptions, has a potential upside over the current market value. Therefore, we recommend a long position in Starbucks.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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