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I joined CNBC this evening to chat about Starbucks’ (SBUX) fourth quarter earnings.
Overall, this was a very solid quarter for Starbucks, and the most profitable in the company’s history. SBUX beat analyst estimates on both top-line sales and earnings per share. Guidance for next year was a little weaker than expected, but not enough to offset investor enthusiasm for what was a very solid quarter.
Starbucks is still expanding its empire — it opened a location in its 75th country this past quarter and expanded its total store count by about 3% — but what is more important is that same-store sales rebounded. Two quarters ago, Starbucks disappointed on same-store sales, calling them an “anomaly.” So investors were certainly happy to see that this was true. Store traffic was flattish, but the average ticket size was up 4%, far outpacing inflation. A shaky economy hasn’t stopped coffee drinkers from getting their Starbux fix.
Perhaps the most interesting development is the success of Starbucks’ loyalty program, which runs on iPhone and Android smartphones and allows customers to pre-order and skip the line. About 1 in 20 U.S. transactions is now made using the Starbucks smartphone app. That is a major development because it allows Starbucks to make far more efficient use of their staff. More efficient use means less overall demand for labor.
This is the future of food service in general, with minimum wages rising in much of the U.S. The app essentially makes the cashier redundant. Today, you’re skipping the Starbucks cashier. Tomorrow, it will be McDonald’s (MCD)… and then virtually everyone else in food service. So, even if the trend towards higher minimum wages continues, food service companies will defend their margins by making more efficient use of labor… and ultimately hiring a lot fewer people.
This is probably not what the “Fight for $15” crowd had in mind, but I don’t see how another outcome is possible given a general lack of pricing power. In a tepid economy growing at less than 2% per year, companies cannot simply pass on the costs of higher labor to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Uber has disrupted taxis as we know them, and driverless cars are about to do it again. Bots and robos are making financial advisors redundant. And now, the same technological forces are reshaping fast food, with Starbucks leading the way. It’s a brave new world.
Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA is the principal of Sizemore Capital Management, an investments firm based in Dallas, Texas.
I joined Akiko Fujita on CNBC’s The Rundown to chat about bank stocks and the Fed.
Twitter (TWTR) shares were down 20% on news from the site Recode that Alphabet (GOOGL), Apple (AAPL) and Disney (DIS) were all backing out of respective bids. This leaves Salesforce.com (CRM) as the only legitimate potential suitor.
Twitter has been the center of endless gossip since rumors leaked that the company was putting itself up for sale. Twitter had allegedly wanted to finish a deal before it reports earnings later this month.
The thing to remember is that all of this is speculation based on rumors and innuendos. Twitter has never publicly made its intentions completely clear.
It’s also not the first time Twitter has been at the center of acquisition rumors. It seems that at least once per year there is a rumor that sends the stock price higher, only to disappoint investors when it doesn’t pan out.
Let’s look at the potential suitors:
Apple: There are no clear synergies in a merger with Apple. Apple is a high-end hardware maker that does a fantastic job of monetizing its customers through its app store. But how would Twitter fit into this business model? I never thought the rumors of an Apple merger made sense.
Salesforce: Salesforce wanted LinkedIn, which ultimately got snagged by Microsoft. So as soon as that deal happened, rumors began to circulate that Salesforce would go after Twitter. But that really made no sense.Yes, Salesforce mines Twitter data, but their relationship isn’t exclusive. IBM and Google also have access to Twitter data. And perhaps more importantly, Twitter would be an extremely expensive buy. For a $50 billion company like Salesforce, a $15-$20 billion acquisition like Twitter would be hard to swallow, particularly since Twitter doesn’t make much money and it would be extremely dilutive to shareholders.
Disney: I’m struggling to see how this marriage would make sense. Incorporating Twitter into television to make it more interactive is an interesting idea, but Disney could do that without buying Twitter and absorbing its costs. Disney could afford Twitter, but it’s hard to see what their rationale would be for doing so.
Alphabet: The only bidder that MIGHT actually make sense. as Google has the cash to make the deal and management control that would allow them to do it without worrying about a shareholder revolt. But even here, it’s questionable why Google would want a company that has struggled to gain wide acceptance. Facebook has monthly average users of about 1.7 billion. Twitter has been stalled out at about 300 million for nearly two years. Despite being 5 times bigger, Facebook still grows faster.
And as recently as a few months ago, Twitter was reportedly considering changing its 140 character limit. That is a fundamental part of the company’s identity that it’s considering dropping. That shouldn’t be happening at this stage of the game. That’s an early stage problem.
Furthermore, it’s hard to judge the quality of users. I estimate that a quarter of my followers are bots or corporate accounts. That’s not what would-be advertisers want to see.
Bottom line, I would view merger rumors with a large grain of salt. If you’re holding on to Twitter hoping for a sale, you’re gambling, not investing.
Disclosures: Long AAPL
Charles Sizemore is the Chief Investment Officer of Sizemore Capital Management, a registered investment advisor based in Dallas serving individual families and institutions. (Read More)
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