Bill Ackman Comments on Starbucks

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Sydnee Gatewood
Mar 29, 2021
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Starbucks (

SBUX, Financial)

We exited our initial investment in Starbucks in January 2020, and opportunistically repurchased a stake in the company at a highly attractive valuation during the March market downturn. Management has handled the COVID-19 crisis incredibly well, which we believe will enable the company to emerge even stronger following the pandemic. At the company's current valuation, about twice the price we paid one year ago, our expected returns from owning Starbucks are below our long-term targets. As a result, we recently sold our stake. Below we summarize our thoughts on the company. Despite the sale, we expect that Starbucks will continue to be a good, long-term investment.

Starbucks was well-prepared for the arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S. given the company's large presence in China. As a result, the company quickly shifted to a drive-thru and delivery-only model at the beginning of the pandemic. As management reopened locations and in-store ordering, Starbucks began to experience a robust sales recovery.

Today, the company is already nearing a full sales recovery, and should be a major beneficiary of a reopened global economy in 2021. By January 2021, same-store sales in the U.S. only declined by 2%. By the second quarter of 2021, Starbucks expects same-store sales in the U.S. to grow by 5% to 10% year over year, implying cumulative two-year comps of 2% to 7% with average-unit volumes above pre-COVID-19 levels.

Starbucks is continuing to experience robust growth in China, following the demise of its closest competitor in the region, Luckin Coffee, and plans to open 600 stores in China in 2021.

We expect Starbucks to benefit from a number of post-COVID-19 tailwinds including pent-up consumer demand for the "third place" experience as many consumers who prefer to enjoy their beverages in store with friends and colleagues have not been able to do so for the past year. Starbucks has historically generated 50% of its sales from breakfast, a daypart geared towards work and school commuting, which should benefit from a return of consumers to their pre-COVID-19 routines.

In addition to managing the COVID-19 crisis, management continues to invest in important growth initiatives including digital, new store formats, and menu innovation. In December 2020, Starbucks' management underscored their confidence in the company's future and increased its long-term outlook for revenue growth, margins, and earnings growth.


Bill Ackman (Trades, Portfolio)'s Pershing Square 2020 annual shareholder letter.

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I am the editorial director at GuruFocus. I have a BA in journalism and a MA in mass communications from Texas Tech University. I have lived in Texas most of my life, but also have roots in New Mexico and Colorado. Follow me on Twitter! @gurusydneerg