Earnings Preview: A Robust Quarter for Starbucks?

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The excitement is in the air. No, I'm not talking about the Super Bowl (though I'm pretty stoked about that, too). I'm talking about earnings season, and we're kicking it off with some big-time players here over the next couple of weeks. Starbucks (NAS: SBUX) is already tackling 2012 and management will release the company's fiscal first-quarter numbers on Thursday.

That was then
Looking back at the company's results for the fourth quarter of 2011, it's not tough to see why the stock has been on such a tear lately. Shares are up 17% since the report, spanking the S&P 500 soundly in the process.

Record revenue and earnings per share definitely caught investors' attention, not to mention improving same-store sales and operating margin. To be sure, Starbucks has been firing on all cylinders and exceptional performance in the consumer products group is making it tough for competitors like Dunkin' Brands (NAS: DNKN) to keep up with their global reach. While Dunkin' has some international potential, Starbucks has quite the lead, with twice as many international locations already.

But Mr. Market is forward-looking, and just as quickly as he giveth he can taketh away. So what are the expectations going into the earnings announcement on Thursday? And furthermore, can Starbucks bring the heat?

This is now
Now that Starbucks has K-Cups thanks to its deal with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NAS: GMCR) , it looks like the consumer products group should continue to perform well. As they move from Canada to online to shelves in the U.S., management expects this to be a $1 billion business over time. And I see no reason to doubt them at this point.

I'm sure we all remember the Onion articles about Starbucks stores in Starbucks bathrooms. Yes, the company grew too fast. With that said, CEO Howard Schultz has done a great job throttling back, and now with a plan in place, management's goal of 800 net new stores for 2012 seems totally reasonable. Especially considering that only about 200 of these are slated for the U.S., with the remainder focused on China, Latin America, and even its first store in India.

And of course there's the recent acquisition of Evolution Fresh that we'll hopefully hear a bit more about this quarter. Schultz sees this as an opportunity to leverage the Starbucks brand into the health-and-wellness market, which he sees as a $50 billion opportunity overall. And back on the call when Starbucks made the acquisition, Schultz made clear the company's intentions:

The one undisputable capability that Starbucks has had over 40 years is our ability, in small spaces, whether they are 500 feet or 3,000 square feet, to identify quality real estate, design a store, operate it, and build a national brand that is trusted and the experience around it. Our intention is to leverage that asset and build the kind of store that gives us the ability to understand how we can do for juice, and health and wellness, what we have done for coffee.

Granted, this party is just getting started, but I don't know that I would ever bet against Howard Schultz. The guy is just a phenomenal leader and businessman.

Why does it matter?
So what can we expect from Starbucks this week? Well, I guess if we knew for sure, we'd probably have to answer a few questions of our own. But after another busy holiday season I have no doubt that a stop at Starbucks was part of many a shopping excursion. It's also worth remembering that the company has met or beaten EPS expectations for the last 11 consecutive quarters, so stay tuned; it should be an entertaining release for sure.

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