Regular readers of my column know that I think very long term when it comes to stocks, and this is often because I make bets on how technology is disrupting old businesses. But I also invest in growth companies that don't depend as much on technology or disruption. Starbucks Corp. is one such example. I own the stock personally and I'm very comfortable predicting it will outperform over the next five years.
Coffee is an important start to the day for so many of us. The product may be a commodity but Starbucks has built an amazing global leadership position and an incredibly well-recognized brand since opening its first store back in 1971. Even with nearly 21,000 stores today, the Seattle-based coffee king has plenty of growth ahead. The stock has the potential to double in the next five years, while carrying less risk than many of the names in my Strategy Lab model portfolio.
Earlier this month, Starbucks held an investor day to outline its ambitions through 2019, during which time management expects to nearly double revenue. To accomplish this, Starbucks will open many more stores around the world, add more and better food to the menu (including desserts and wine for evening visits), and continue pushing further into loyalty programs and mobile payments.
Are these plans overly ambitious and unrealistic? I don't think so. Starbucks delivered cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12 per cent on revenue since 2011 while expanding its profit margin. Operating profit grew by 22 per cent over the same period. The founding CEO, Howard Schultz, still runs the company with an enormous level of passion. To be sure, the company must accelerate revenue growth to reach its target. But I have trouble poking holes in the multiple new areas of growth that Starbucks is shooting for, and I value the stable leadership involved in the execution of these plans.
Furthermore, the growth plans don't depend on disrupting markets or inventing any new technology. For example, Seattle has several times as many Starbucks stores per resident than, say, Buffalo. In cities where Starbucks has more stores, like Seattle, it makes a lot more money. There is no shortage of places to open new coffee shops, and I'm a big fan of how Starbucks has not just built shops but desirable destinations, where people enjoy spending a few bucks on good coffee. Add more stores, more drive-through locations and more food, and it seems like a low-risk, high-reward plan.
I realize many people think Starbucks is just a company selling overpriced coffee. But we should be making investment decisions based on how customers actually behave, not our own personal views on how they should behave. Most people don't care about your buying habits and certainly aren't going to change their behaviour because of what you or I happen to believe. People enjoy coffee, and people enjoy hanging out with others while drinking coffee. I don't see this changing during my lifetime, no matter how much time we waste staring at screens.
When I look at Starbucks, I see a dominant leader in an important and stable industry. The company is a proven winner. Considering the growth that lies ahead, I feel paying 22 times next year's earnings is very reasonable. Sure, this stock has quadrupled in the last five years. But it may well double again in the next five. While you are out picking up those Starbucks gift cards as stocking stuffers, you might also consider giving yourself the gift of their stock.