NEW YORK (Real Money) -- This market doesn't just struggle with how to value the pure growth vehicles that are sacrificing near-term profitability for hope for riches down the road.
It also doesn't know how to value high-growth companies that have solid earnings per share but trade at very rich multiples to those earnings.
You can see the market's teeth gnash at a stock like Starbucks (SBUX), which has a price-to-earnings ratio of 26. So many things have to go right just to maintain that P/E, as this market is in no mood whatsoever for multiple expansion. That's what has felled so many stocks since the end of February. The market seems to be saying that Starbucks, down 10% for the year and 12 points from its high, simply is no bargain.
Now, this is a severe judgment, because Starbucks is very much hitting in on all cylinders: Its U.S. business is booming; its China operations are on fire; India's coming on strong; Europe's gotten good again; and the rollout of everything from new food to wine and beer seems to be going fantastically. Plus there's Teavana's Oprah Chai Tea -- which, from early word, is working magic. There's also the electronics-payment business, which is the envy of every other retailer on earth.
But isn't that why Starbucks is at 26 times earnings? Unless earnings are about to take a dramatic step function upward, you aren't going to see this stock go back to those highs. As great as the company is, I don't know if that's a possibility. Accelerating revenue growth is difficult for a company of this size. I think the judgment is that you hold on to the stock and wait. New people? Wait until it trades at a level that's not as lofty vs. the S&P 500's 17x. I just don't know if Starbucks will get there.