Starbucks’ first-quarter sales and traffic failed to impress investors Thursday afternoon. Shares slipped about 4 percent in after-hours trading to $58.05. They closed the day at $60.55. The news was driven by Starbucks’ muted comparable same-store sales growth of 2 percent in the Americas and U.S., credited to a 2 percent uptick in average ticket. This missed Consensus Metrix’s prediction of 3.3 percent growth and FactSet’s 3 percent target.
Starbucks' shares continued to fall early Friday, and were down nearly 5 percent to $57.57 in morning trading.
Traffic was also flat during what’s typically a robust holiday quarter, and Starbucks said it now expects 2018 global same-store growth at the low end of its previously forecasted 3–5 percent. Operating income was down 1.5 percent to $1.1 billion.
READ MORE: Is Starbucks slowdown more than a holiday slump?
Starbucks focused much of its release around robust growth in China. Starbucks reported Thursday that its comps in China lifted 6 percent, driven by a 6 percent increase in transactions. More so, China grew revenues 30 percent in Q1, “with the strategic acquisition of East China positioning us to accelerate our growth in the key China market,” Kevin Johnson, president and CEO of Starbucks, said in a statement.
On December 31, Starbucks spent a company-record $1.3 billion in cash consideration to acquire the remaining 50 percent share of its East China business from long-term joint venture partners Uni-President Enterprises and President Chain Store Corporation. With the deal, Starbucks assumed 100 percent ownership of more than 1,400 restaurants in Shanghai and in the Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces, bringing the total to more than 3,100 corporate stores in China at the time of closing. That massive investment appears to be paying off.
“Today, Starbucks has two powerful, independent but complementary engines driving our global growth, the U.S. and China. Our work to streamline the company is sharpening our focus on our core operating priorities,” Johnson added.
Also on December 31, UPEC and PCSC acquired Starbucks’ 50 percent interest in President Starbucks Coffee Taiwan Limited and assumed complete ownership of Starbucks operations in Taiwan.
Net revenues for the China/Asia Pacific segment grew 9 percent over Q1 2017 to $843.7 million in Q1 2018. Starbucks can thank the addition incremental revenues from 1,033 net new store openings in the past 12 months and a 1 percent increase in comparable store sales.
“We are laser-focused on accelerating growth in China and driving improvement across the U.S. business as we move into and through the back half of the year, and remain committed to delivering on the long-term targets we announced last quarter,” Starbucks chief financial officer Scott Maw said in a statement.
Starbucks largest unit in the world—a Starbucks Reserve Roastery—is in Shanghai, and opened December 5. It features onsite baking by Italian food purveyor Rocco Princi (also a first for Starbucks in China). Starbucks introduced Princi Bakery to the U.S. inside its Seattle Roastery in November, and said it plans to open Princi standalone stores starting in 2018.
Overall, the quarter was Starbucks’ first $6 billion report in company history. The chain had consolidated net revenues of $6.1 billion, or growth of 6 percent versus the prior-year period. That also missed Wall Street expectations of $6.2 million. Starbucks reported a profit of $2.2 billion, or $1.57 per share, compared with $751.8 billion, or 51 cents per share, year-over-year. The company's earnings per share received a 79-cent boost from its East China purchase. And excluding items such as a tax benefit and proceeds from the Tazo brand sale to Unilever, Starbucks earned 58 cents per share, which actually topped Wall Street expectations by a cent.
Global comparable sales were up 2 percent behind a 2 percent increase in average ticket. These were the same as the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017 when Starbucks said sales would have risen 3 percent if not for hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Also, U.S. comps grew 2 percent in Q4 and would have, likewise, been up 3 percent without weather issues, Starbucks said.
Jim Badum, EVP of Client Partnership at Ansira, believes Starbucks has several opportunities to recoup sales and traffic. One area involves menu boards.
"Implementing digital menu boards in Starbucks stores should certainly lead to an increase in sales," he said. "These menu boards would allow Starbucks to easily change out menu items, which would be very useful for the company to localize messaging pricing and offers by season, day or even daypart."
Back in the U.S., active membership in Starbucks Rewards rose 11 percent versus the prior year to 14.2 million, with member spend accounting for 37 percent of U.S. company-operated sales. Mobile order and pay now represents 11 percent of all U.S. company-operated transactions. Starbucks Card reached 42 percent of U.S. and Canada company-operated transactions.
"Going digital would also allow the restaurant to bring its promotions and limited time items front and center and again localize content at the store level. Digital eye-catching displays would be the perfect way to promote the company’s viral drinks, like the unique Unicorn Frappuccino," Badum added. "Additionally, Starbucks could display high ticket items front and center on digital menus, leading to greater upselling. In short, these menus are so customizable, the possibilities are practically endless."
Starbucks also opened 700 net new stores globally in the quarter, and now features a footprint of 28,039 restaurants in 76 markets.
“Starbucks reported another quarter of record financial results in Q1 of fiscal 2018, with consolidated revenues up 6 percent over last year—up 7 percent excluding 1 percent for the impact of streamlining activities in the quarter,” Johnson said.
In fiscal 2018, Starbucks reiterated most of its targets, with the exception being earnings per share, which were modified for the expected impact of changes in the U.S. tax law and related investments. The company announced Wednesday its plan to divert $250 million into better pay and benefits for its employees, among other improvements.
Included in the 2018 expectations, Starbucks said it expects to open about 2,300 net new stores globally.
Thanks to the lower tax rate, Starbucks raised its fiscal 2018 earnings forecast to a range of $2.48–$2.53 per share, excluding items, up from $2.30–$2.33 per share previously. Some other notes:
Starbucks completed its $384 million sale of the Tazo Tea brand to Unilever on December 11, paving the way for a more focused Teavana push.
In November, Starbucks entered its 76th market with an opening in Jamaica.
The company also repurchased 28.5 million shares of common stock in the quarter.