Starbucks Corp. raised its fiscal year forecast above Wall Street's estimates, banking on its relatively well-heeled customers visiting more often and shaking off price increases.
The world's biggest coffee chain, which is coming off a years-long restructuring that involved closing poorly performing stores to rekindle growth, Thursday reported better-than-expected fiscal third-quarter earnings.
Seattle-based Starbucks joined a raft of other premium-positioned companies — including burrito chain Chipotle Mexican Grill and Whole Foods Market Inc. — in reporting out-sized same-store sales gains.
"The higher end is alive and well," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Larry Miller. Steakhouses and seafood restaurants also had strong results, he said.
"Reports of the consumer's demise were greatly exaggerated," said Miller, who added that McDonald's Corp. and other restaurant chains showed surprising health during the latest quarter.
Sales at Starbucks' U.S. cafes open at least 13 months, and which yield about four-fifths of its revenue, jumped 8 percent in its fiscal third-quarter ended July 3. Analysts expected a 5.3 percent increase.
Traffic in its home market climbed 6 percent, while average spending per visit rose 2 percent.
Chief Financial Officer Troy Alstead told Reuters menu price increases accounted for the bigger part of the rise in spending, but customers were also buying more food.
Starbucks targets more affluent consumers than the typical U.S. fast-food chain. Those customers have fared better than their lower-income counterparts as the U.S. economy sputters, and they have resumed spending on discretionary items like $4 lattes and organic foods.
CATERING TO THE WELL-HEELED
Starbucks shares, which have benefited from a massive restructuring that slashed costs and shut over 900 poorly performing cafes around the world, are up 60 percent from a year ago. On Thursday, it said it would be adding a net 800 stores globally in 2012.
That expansion comes despite high unemployment and the uncertain outcome of the U.S. debt ceiling debate weighing on the minds of consumers.
Upscale diners seem less wary. Chipotle, which offers naturally-raised meats and organic produce where possible, saw same-restaurant sales jump 10 percent in the most recent quarter. Whole Foods, top U.S. seller of organic food products, said its identical-store sales jumped 8.1 percent.
The gains at Starbucks, Chipotle and Whole Foods outpaced a 4.5 percent rise in U.S. same-restaurant sales at McDonald's, one of the restaurant industry's top performers and the leader among fast-food chains.
"Our results are a little bit in contrast to what I still believe to be an uncertain and fragile environment out there," Alstead said.
Wall Street also was upbeat about the coffee chain's new partnership with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., whose popular Keurig machines control about 80 percent of the fast-growing North American single-serve brewing segment.
The companies plan to begin selling Starbucks coffee and Tazo tea for Keurig machines at wholesale clubs, drugstores and supermarkets in North America this autumn, in time for the important winter holiday season.
Alstead said the partnership would generate 3 cents to 5 cents in incremental earnings per share in fiscal 2012.
Green Mountain shares soared more than 16 percent Thursday, one day after it said that deals with the likes of Starbucks and newly public Dunkin' Donuts would brew up bigger profits.
Seattle-based Starbucks boosted its earnings forecast for this fiscal year to $1.50-$1.51 per share from $1.46 to $1.48 a share, previously. Analysts, on average, were expecting a fiscal 2011 profit of $1.50 per share.
It also forecast a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in earnings per share in 2012 and a 10 percent increase in revenue. The forecast is based on mid-single digit comparable store sales growth and the opening of net 800 new stores.
The 2012 forecast includes the expected contribution from the Green Mountain deal.
Starbucks' third-quarter net income rose 34 percent to $279.1 million, or 36 cents per share, beating analysts' average estimate by 2 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue rose 12 percent to $2.93 billion.
Shares were up 1.3 percent to $40.50 in after-hours trade. That gain came after the shares added 2.6 percent in regular Nasdaq trade Thursday.
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