In response to questions from reporters today about the economic climate in the U.S. and its impact on Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX – News), Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO, made the follow comment: “The downturn continued in the fourth quarter, and we did see a slight improvement in the first weeks of Q1 … which might suggest that Starbucks may have hit bottom in terms of negative transactions in our fourth quarter.”

To provide further context, the company had expected U.S. fourth-quarter comparable store sales to be relatively stable with third-quarter trends. In fact, Starbucks experienced deterioration sequentially in its fourth quarter. October comparable store sales improved slightly over fourth quarter, due primarily to a higher average value per transaction.

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