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Starbucks raises outlook but shares fall

Packets of Starbucks coffee are seen in a supermarket in Santa Monica, California, January 27, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Packets of Starbucks coffee are seen in a supermarket in Santa Monica, California, January 27, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Martinne Geller

(Reuters) - Starbucks Corp reported higher quarterly profit on Thursday that matched Wall Street estimates and it raised its full-year earnings forecast.

The world's biggest coffee chain cited increased sales in the United States, its top market, despite an industry-wide spending downturn in February due to a U.S. payroll tax increase that lowered take-home pay.

Revenue was slightly below analysts' estimates and the company's shares fell nearly 3 percent in afterhours trading. They had gained nearly 3 percent in the last five days and nearly 12 percent year to date, fueled by expectations of strong performance.

"While there's been some choppiness that others have been reporting out there, I think what's remarkable about our results is the steadiness of our (same-store sales) growth in the U.S. for example," Starbucks Chief Financial Officer Troy Alstead said in an interview.

Sales at stores open at least 13 months, or same-store sales, rose 6 percent globally.

In the U.S.-dominated Americas region, which contributes about 75 percent of Starbucks' revenue, same-store sales rose 6 percent. That included gains of 5 percent in the number of transactions and 2 percent in the amount spent per visit. The components add up to 7 due to rounding.

Analysts polled by Consensus Metrix were expecting increases of 6.2 percent for the Americas and 6.1 percent overall for Starbucks' company-owned stores.

Same-store sales rose 8 percent for China and Asia Pacific and fell 2 percent for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

Seattle-based Starbucks is a destination for relatively affluent consumers with extra money to spend on premium drinks such as lattes and mochas. As a result, it has been more resilient to dips in consumer spending such as the February pullback prompted by the increase in U.S. payroll taxes.

ITG restaurant analyst Steve West said Starbucks is almost a victim of its own success.

"The expectation bar keeps getting higher and higher until, finally, you can't beat it," he said.

Starbucks said net earnings rose to $390.4 million, or 51 cents per share, in the fiscal second quarter that ended on March 31 from $309.9 million, or 40 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding a 3 cent-per-share gain on the sale of its stake in a Mexican venture, earnings were 48 cents per share, matching analysts' average estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 11 percent to $3.56 billion. Analysts were expecting $3.59 billion.

The company said it expects earnings of $2.12 to $2.18 per share this year, up from a prior target range of $2.06 to $2.15.

Starbucks shares fell to $59 in afterhours trading from their close at $60.50.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller in New York and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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