Starbucks: Coffee Prices Will Come Down

(Starbucks and coffee prices report updated with clarification about John Culver's remarks.)
SEATTLE ( TheStreet) -- Starbucks ( SBUX) has already contracted its coffee purchases for the remainder of fiscal 2011, locking in its costs, as the commodity trades near decades-long highs.

Coffee futures hit a three-decade high of $3.0615 per pound on May 3 but have come down somewhat from that price in recent trading sessions. The commodity most recently settled at $2.7495 per pound on Friday.


In December CEO Howard Schultz called the 50% spike in coffee futures "tragic," blaming financial speculators for the run-up in prices.

John Culver, president of Starbucks Coffee International, said "we think that these prices are not based on facts given there is no supply problem," according to reports in Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger published Friday. "Speculators are at work here."

"We do believe, however, that prices are going to fall again. For this year, we have suspended our coffee buys for the moment but we watch the market closely," he said

According to a Starbucks spokesman, Culver's remarks were mistranslated somewhat.

Culver's point, according to the spokesman, was that Starbucks had already locked in its coffee costs for 2011, and had already contracted to buy the main ingredient needed for its coffee operations, not that it had actually suspended purchases.

Additionally, Culver's intent was to say that the current high rate of coffee prices is not sustainable over the long term, and that prices will come down over time, though not likely in the near future.

Starbucks offered weaker-than-expected 2011 profit guidance as the cost of sales in its recent quarter jumped 10.9% year-over-year to a 51.5% share of total revenue, compared with a 49.8% share of total revenue, in the year-earlier period.

Rising costs for many commodities have been hitting food, beverage and consumer product makers increasingly for months -- and coffee companies have certainly not been immune.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters ( GMCR) said recently that its margins have been growing despite soaring coffee bean costs.

Peet's Coffee & Tea ( PEET) lowered its profit guidance by 10 cents per share as coffee prices skyrocketed.

J.M. Smucker ( SJM) said that green coffee costs were "significantly higher in the second quarter of 2011," leading it to raise prices earlier in the year. Smucker raised prices of its Folgers and other well-known brands by around 9%, its largest price hike in years.

Canada-based coffee shop chain Tim Hortons ( THI) did not specifically mention how rising coffee and commodity costs affected its results last quarter, but reported that its cost of sales jumped 15.9% last quarter to a 62.5% share of total revenue, up from 59.6% share in the year-earlier period.

In line with a general market selloff Friday , Starbucks shares fell 0.8% to close at $36.15 on Friday. Green Mountain lost 1.2% to $75.56, Peet's was lower by 1.6% at $48.02 and Smucker shed 0.6% to $75.44. Tim Hortons bucked the trend, gaining 0.6% to close at $47.85.

-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Miriam Reimer.

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