Starbucks Corp boosts profit forecast despite slower growth

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Starbucks Corp executives said sales at its cafes open at least 13 months softened, particularly in December. Reuters Starbucks Corp executives said sales at its cafes open at least 13 months softened, particularly in December. Reuters
SummaryStarbucks Corp reported that sales at established restaurants in its US-dominated Americas region cooled.

Starbucks Corp on Thursday reported that sales at established restaurants in its US-dominated Americas region cooled more than analysts expected in its latest quarter as online shopping kept more consumers at home and reduced their visits to its coffee bars.

With fewer shoppers going to all types of stores to buy gifts, Starbucks executives said sales at its cafes open at least 13 months softened, particularly in December.

Nevertheless, the world's biggest coffee chain boosted its fiscal 2014 earnings per share forecast to a range of $2.59 to $2.67, from $2.55 to $2.65 previously, sending shares up more than 1 percent to $74.15 in after-hours trade.

Global sales at Starbucks cafes open at least 13 months were up 5 percent, versus analysts' average estimate for a 5.9 percent rise, according to Consensus Metrix. That figure included a 5 percent increase for the Americas region, which contributes 70 percent of Starbucks revenue. Analysts, on average, expected a 6.4 percent rise from the region.

In the two prior quarters, Starbucks' Americas region same-restaurant sales were up 8 percent and 9 percent.

"It's hard to really be to critical, especially when you compare what we've seen and what we're about to see in the coming weeks," Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo said, referring to the recent spate of disappointing earnings reports and profit warnings from restaurants and retailers.

Those included McDonald's Corp, which earlier on Thursday reported a steeper-than-expected drop in December sales at established restaurants in the United States and put some of the blame on frigid winter weather.

"Growth is hard to find," Russo said.

SHIFT TO ONLINE SHOPPING

Expectations had been muted ahead of the release of Starbucks' results, in part because the Seattle company has been on a growth tear that many analysts said could not go on forever.

In a conference call with analysts, Starbucks Chairman and Chief Executive Howard Schultz predicted that December 2013 would go down as the turning point in the way consumers shop.

"People spent much more time on the web than ever before," Schultz said.

Overall U.S. online sales in the period between Nov. 2 and Dec. 23 grew 10 percent compared with a year earlier, according to data firm comScore.

ShopperTrak last week said U.S. shopper traffic at brick and mortar stores fell 14.6 percent during the holiday season.

Schultz pointed to the Americas region's 4 percent traffic increase in the latest quarter as proof that Starbucks would successfully weather the change - in large

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