Starbucks Stock Slides as Sales Disappoint

Shares of coffee shop owner Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) fell as much as 9 percent Thursday, a day after the company reported monthly same-store sales (search) that fell short of many analysts' expectations.

Smith Barney analyst Mark Kalinowski downgraded Starbucks shares to "hold" from "buy" after the company Wednesday said sales at stores open 13 months, a key retail measure known as same-store sales, rose 7 percent in January. Kalinowski and several other Wall Street analysts had forecnt.

"This suggests that same-store sales might decelerate at a quicker pace than we had previously anticipated," Kalinowski said in a research note.

Starbucks has a long-term goal of posting monthly same-store sales increases of 3 to 7 percent and executives said last week they expect results to fall at the high end of that range for the rest of the year, excluding some "monthly anomalies."

The Seattle company, however, has a track record of larger increases. The chain has posted double-digit increases in eight of the past 12 months, for instance, and January's rise was the lowest since the company raised beverage prices by 6 percent in October.

Several analysts said strong Starbucks gift-card sales in December had not added as much to the company's top line as they had anticipated because the cards replaced cash sales instead of adding new transactions.

"We may have gotten overly excited about the strong gift-card sales in the fourth quarter," Prudential analyst Larry Miller said in a research report.

In addition, sales of Starbucks' new Chantico (search) drinking chocolate were not as robust as expected, according to Legg Mason analyst Glenn Guard.

Starbucks shares were down $4.04, or 7.5 percent, at $49.96 on the Nasdaq Thursday afternoon, off an earlier low at $49.14. The stock has fallen about 20 percent since the beginning of the year, weighing on its rich valuation.

Starbucks shares now trade at about 43 times its projected 2005 earnings, down from 53 at the end of 2004. That's still well above the average valuation of less than 20 times estimated 2005 earnings for other restaurant industry stocks.

Prudential's Miller said the company's shares would be more fairly priced at between $45 and $50, though Legg Mason's Guard said the stock was unlikely to fall below about $48 as investors took the share declines as a buying opportunity.