The third quarter was when sales growth at big American companies was supposed to slump. Starbucks was not informed.
In its earnings report on Thursday evening, same-store sales at U.S. outlets – which make up three-quarters of total revenue – were up 6 per cent, holding the pace of the quarter before. Total revenues were up 14 per cent, helped by new openings in the U.S. (There is clearly no more room in America for more Starbucks outlets; the only possible explanation is that they are building new stores in the seating areas of old ones.) Another contributor was continued rapid growth in consumer products sales. Shares rose 7 per cent in late trading.
Yes, there are soft spots. The European operation is shrinking slightly and running at a loss. That may leave room for clever tax planning, but it does not reflect well on a company with global ambitions. Impressive growth in Asia comes off of a tiny base and high margins there are falling as the company invests in China. Consumer product sales growth is indeed impressive but is decelerating fast despite, again, a less-than-huge base.
After so many big companies, from IBM to McDonald's, have produced uninspiring results, any company that keeps up growth will be cheered, regardless of how that growth is distributed across regions or businesses. Starbucks coffee is expensive, but Americans remain stubbornly willing to pay up for it. Until that changes, the shares will command a premium, too.