Starbucks Corporation (NASDAQ:SBUX) operates as a roaster, marketer, and retailer of specialty coffee worldwide. The company initiated its dividend in 2010 and has been growing distributions rapidly since then. While the company has only managed to increase dividends for four years in a row, I believe that it has the potential to reach dividend achiever status, and has the growth story to become as successful for its dividend growth investors.

The most recent dividend increase was in November 2016, when the Board of Directors approved a 25% increase in the quarterly dividend to 25 cents/share. The company’s competitors include McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), Nestle (OTCPK:NSRGY) and Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ:DNKN).

Since the company initiated a dividend payment in 2010, the stock has returned 315%. Future investment returns will be dependent on growth in earnings and dividend yields obtained by shareholders, as well as the initial valuation locked in at the time of investment.

Starbucks Corporation (SBUX)

The company has managed to deliver a 17.80% average increase in annual EPS over the past decade. Starbucks is expected to earn $2.16 per share in 2017 and $2.48 per share in 2018. In comparison, the company earned $1.90/share in 2016.

Starbucks Corporation (SBUX)

Starbucks has a strong brand name, synonymous with quality, customer service and a unique atmosphere at its stores. The company also gains from benefits of scale as it expands its retail store footprint globally. Future growth for Starbucks will be delivered by expanding the number of stores globally. While the US market is close to being saturated in terms of store count, there is plenty of room for growth in countries like China, India, Brazil. The company can also squeeze in more growth from existing US stores by adding drive-through windows and extending store hours. The international expansion can be aided by replicating the best practices of stores in the US and then replicating success abroad, one store at a time.

The benefits to scale relative to other coffee shops is adding to the company’s bottom line. In addition, the strong brand and unique customer experience have translated into pricing power for Starbucks. Hence, I believe the company to have a wide moat.

In addition, Starbucks is actively diversifying its revenues by expanding into other channels, such as K-cups, packaged coffee, etc. If Starbucks could further leverage the company’s brand by selling a variety of branded consumer goods at mass retailers, it could further grow revenues and profits.
The company would likely be able to open approximately a net number of 1,500 stores annually, thus bringing store count closer to 35,000 units globally by the middle of the next decade. Last year, it opened 2,042 new stores globally, which brought the total number of locations to 25,085 in 75 countries. In 2017, the company expects 2,100 new store openings. Starbucks is also targeting mid-single digit same-store sales growth as well. As a result of store count increases and estimated increases in same store sales, it is quite possible that the company will be able to grow earnings per share by close to 12%-15%/year over the next decade.

I also like the company’s management, in the face of Howard Schultz, who has the majority of his net worth in Starbucks stock. He is only 63, so I believe he has a few more years left, before he contemplates retirement. Even if he were to step down, I will expect him to be involved in the future of the organization. As a side note observation, it is very interesting to see how owner operators of publicly traded companies tend to monetize their passion for the business they manage into outstanding total returns for shareholders.

Starbucks Corporation (SBUX)

The company initiated its first dividend of five cents/share in 2010. Since then, the dividend has been increased seven times, with the latest quarterly dividend payment being of 25 cents/share. Since Starbucks is still in the initial phases of dividend growth, it can afford to grow distributions at a much higher rate than earnings growth for several years. Once it reaches a certain target dividend payout ratio, however, dividend growth would likely level off and grow as much as earnings per share over time.

I believe that it has the potential to reach dividend achiever status by 2020.

The forward dividend payout ratio is around 46% right now. I believe that even with a dividend payout of 40%-45%, Starbucks would still be able to plow back enough into the business and still achieve its growth targets over the next decade. At the forward earnings of $2.16/share for 2017, and at a 46% dividend payout ratio, I would expect that the company Board of Directors to increase quarterly distributions to 28-29 cents/share at their next announcement in 2017.

Starbucks Corporation (SBUX)

Starbucks also has a high return on equity at around 46%. A high return on equity is usually one of the signs of an outstanding business, which generates hefty returns above its cost of capital. The ROE declined during the financial crisis, but bounced back after Howard Schultz returned to the company to lead turnaround efforts at the chain.

Currently, I find Starbucks to be overvalued at 24.40 times forward earnings and a low yield of 1.90%. Starbucks is a growth company, which will likely grow earnings per share by 12%- 15%/year over the next decade, which somewhat justifies the low yield and optimistic valuation. Unfortunately, I cannot get myself to pay more than 20 times earnings for a company, because I know that things could go wrong to derail even for the best crafted plans out there. That’s why I want some margin of safety before I buy a company. Even the best company is not worth wildly overpaying for.

I am waiting for lower entry valuation. I would be interested in Starbucks if it goes below $43/share. This is equivalent to 20 times forward earnings. If the company stumbles temporarily, or if stock markets finally decide to cool off a little bit during the next bear market, that would be the best opportunity to acquire a stake in this otherwise fine company. Other investors may also decide to sell puts on the stock.

Full Disclosure: Long SBUX

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Article by Dividend Growth Investor