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Shares of Coffee Giant Starbucks Look Appealing After 5-Year Lull



With shares of Starbucks (SBUX) trading around 2019 levels (low 90’s) despite sales and free cash flow that are running well above pre-pandemic levels, I am getting close to boosting my firm’s exposure for my clients. With both a P/E and a P/FCF multiple in the mid 20’s, SBUX fetches a price at the low end of historical valuation ranges despite a competitive position that remains as strong as ever today.

5 Year Price Chart of Starbucks SBUX Stock (2/5/24)

The recent stock price weakness can be linked to negative press (a small but growing subset of stores whose workers believe unionizing is the answer to their prayers), as well as ever-rising retail pricing driven by underlying inflation that threatens to reduce consumer visits.

The first concern seems quite manageable given the overall size of the company. A few hundred unionized stores out of nearly 20,000 total in North America will hardly bite the company’s income statement. I believe the union momentum is likely slowing due to unimpressive results thus far (the two sides have yet to come to an agreement on a contract despite months and months of back and forth). The strongest evidence that disgruntled SBUX employees are simply looking for a scapegoat becomes evident when the media presses them on why they don’t simply quit and work somewhere else. After all, if SBUX treats their employees so badly relative to other chains, a mass exodus of good workers would probably be quite successful in getting SBUX executives to play ball.

Interestingly, the union hopefuls respond to such suggestions by pointing out that they can’t make as much money elsewhere and the benefits aren’t as good. This is true, of course, relative to smaller, more local coffee shops nationwide, but it blunts the impact of their pro-union arguments in almost comical fashion. Basically, SBUX is a better place to work than most other food service companies, but since they can’t get everything they want, they’re going to unionize. I suspect this flawed logic (they don’t really have any negotiating leverage) is why the vast majority of SBUX workers have not pursued a union vote and seem generally happy with their jobs.

The concern of inflation is always real, as SBUX has been forced to raise prices materially like everybody else in recent years. But for decades now the SBUX customer has generally seen the product as a relatively affordable luxury and regulars keep coming back during the ups and downs of most economic cycles. It is hard to see that trend changing now, after it withstood the Great Recession and the pandemic. As a result, the odds that SBUX continues to be a mature, dominant food service business with cash-cow characteristics for many decades to come appear quite high.

All in all, I view SBUX as a phenomenal business that currently trades near historical troughs in valuation terms (I went back about a decade to make that assessment). Don’t get me wrong – it’s far from dirt cheap, but great businesses rarely are, and buying high quality at very reasonable prices has served long-term investors very well over the long term.

Full Disclosure: Long shares of SBUX personally and for some clients, with the latter group likely to see larger purchases in the near future.


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Stock indexes are breaking records and crossing milestones – making many investors feel wealthier

The S&P 500 topped 5,000 on Feb. 9, 2024, for the first time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average will probably hit a new big round number soon t…




Major stock indexes were hitting or nearing records in February 2024, as they were in early 2020 when this TV chyron appeared. AP Photo/Richard Drew

The S&P 500 stock index topped 5,000 for the first time on Feb. 9, 2024, exciting some investors and garnering a flurry of media coverage. The Conversation asked Alexander Kurov, a financial markets scholar, to explain what stock indexes are and to say whether this kind of milestone is a big deal or not.

What are stock indexes?

Stock indexes measure the performance of a group of stocks. When prices rise or fall overall for the shares of those companies, so do stock indexes. The number of stocks in those baskets varies, as does the system for how this mix of shares gets updated.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, also known as the Dow, includes shares in the 30 U.S. companies with the largest market capitalization – meaning the total value of all the stock belonging to shareholders. That list currently spans companies from Apple to Walt Disney Co.

The S&P 500 tracks shares in 500 of the largest U.S. publicly traded companies.

The Nasdaq composite tracks performance of more than 2,500 stocks listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

The DJIA, launched on May 26, 1896, is the oldest of these three popular indexes, and it was one of the first established.

Two enterprising journalists, Charles H. Dow and Edward Jones, had created a different index tied to the railroad industry a dozen years earlier. Most of the 12 stocks the DJIA originally included wouldn’t ring many bells today, such as Chicago Gas and National Lead. But one company that only got booted in 2018 had stayed on the list for 120 years: General Electric.

The S&P 500 index was introduced in 1957 because many investors wanted an option that was more representative of the overall U.S. stock market. The Nasdaq composite was launched in 1971.

You can buy shares in an index fund that mirrors a particular index. This approach can diversify your investments and make them less prone to big losses.

Index funds, which have only existed since Vanguard Group founder John Bogle launched the first one in 1976, now hold trillions of dollars .

Why are there so many?

There are hundreds of stock indexes in the world, but only about 50 major ones.

Most of them, including the Nasdaq composite and the S&P 500, are value-weighted. That means stocks with larger market values account for a larger share of the index’s performance.

In addition to these broad-based indexes, there are many less prominent ones. Many of those emphasize a niche by tracking stocks of companies in specific industries like energy or finance.

Do these milestones matter?

Stock prices move constantly in response to corporate, economic and political news, as well as changes in investor psychology. Because company profits will typically grow gradually over time, the market usually fluctuates in the short term, while increasing in value over the long term.

The DJIA first reached 1,000 in November 1972, and it crossed the 10,000 mark on March 29, 1999. On Jan. 22, 2024, it surpassed 38,000 for the first time. Investors and the media will treat the new record set when it gets to another round number – 40,000 – as a milestone.

The S&P 500 index had never hit 5,000 before. But it had already been breaking records for several weeks.

Because there’s a lot of randomness in financial markets, the significance of round-number milestones is mostly psychological. There is no evidence they portend any further gains.

For example, the Nasdaq composite first hit 5,000 on March 10, 2000, at the end of the dot-com bubble.

The index then plunged by almost 80% by October 2002. It took 15 years – until March 3, 2015 – for it return to 5,000.

By mid-February 2024, the Nasdaq composite was nearing its prior record high of 16,057 set on Nov. 19, 2021.

Index milestones matter to the extent they pique investors’ attention and boost market sentiment.

Investors afflicted with a fear of missing out may then invest more in stocks, pushing stock prices to new highs. Chasing after stock trends may destabilize markets by moving prices away from their underlying values.

When a stock index passes a new milestone, investors become more aware of their growing portfolios. Feeling richer can lead them to spend more.

This is called the wealth effect. Many economists believe that the consumption boost that arises in response to a buoyant stock market can make the economy stronger.

Is there a best stock index to follow?

Not really. They all measure somewhat different things and have their own quirks.

For example, the S&P 500 tracks many different industries. However, because it is value-weighted, it’s heavily influenced by only seven stocks with very large market values.

Known as the “Magnificent Seven,” shares in Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia and Tesla now account for over one-fourth of the S&P 500’s value. Nearly all are in the tech sector, and they played a big role in pushing the S&P across the 5,000 mark.

This makes the index more concentrated on a single sector than it appears.

But if you check out several stock indexes rather than just one, you’ll get a good sense of how the market is doing. If they’re all rising quickly or breaking records, that’s a clear sign that the market as a whole is gaining.

Sometimes the smartest thing is to not pay too much attention to any of them.

For example, after hitting record highs on Feb. 19, 2020, the S&P 500 plunged by 34% in just 23 trading days due to concerns about what COVID-19 would do to the economy. But the market rebounded, with stock indexes hitting new milestones and notching new highs by the end of that year.

Panicking in response to short-term market swings would have made investors more likely to sell off their investments in too big a hurry – a move they might have later regretted. This is why I believe advice from the immensely successful investor and fan of stock index funds Warren Buffett is worth heeding.

Buffett, whose stock-selecting prowess has made him one of the world’s 10 richest people, likes to say “Don’t watch the market closely.”

If you’re reading this because stock prices are falling and you’re wondering if you should be worried about that, consider something else Buffett has said: “The light can at any time go from green to red without pausing at yellow.”

And the opposite is true as well.

Alexander Kurov does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Marriage is not as effective an anti-poverty strategy as you’ve been led to believe

Marriage on its own won’t do away with child poverty, and in fact it can create even more instability for low-income families.



Despite the popular guidance, marriage can be an economic risk for single parents with unstable partners. simarik/iStock/Getty Images Plus predicts that 2024 will be the “year of the proposal” as engagements tick back up after a pandemic-driven slowdown.

Meanwhile, support for marriage has found new grist in recent books, including sociologist Brad Wilcox’s “Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families and Save Civilization” and economist Melissa Kearney’s “The Two-Parent Privilege.”

Kearney’s book was hailed by economist Tyler Cowen as possibly “the most important economics and policy book of this year.” This is not because it treads new ground but because, as author Kay Hymowitz writes, it breaks the supposed “taboo about an honest accounting of family decline.”

These developments are good news for the marriage promotion movement, which for decades has claimed that marriage supports children’s well-being and combats poverty. The movement dates back at least to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Moynihan Report of 1965, which argued that family structure aggravated Black poverty.

Forty years after the Moynihan Report, George W. Bush-era programs such as the Healthy Marriage Initiative sought to enlist churches and other community groups in an effort to channel childbearing back into marriage. These initiatives continue today, with the federally subsidized Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood programs.

Still, nearly 30% of U.S. children live in single-parent homes today, compared with 10% in 1965.

We are law professors who have written extensively about family structure and poverty. We, and others, have found that there is almost no evidence that federal programs that promote marriage have made a difference in encouraging two-parent households. That’s in large part because they forgo effective solutions that directly address poverty for measures that embrace the culture wars.

Child hangs upside down on playground equipment
Having a parent who has a college degree makes kids less likely to live in poverty than having parents who are married. Mayur Kakade/Moment Collection via Getty Images

Marriage and social class

Today’s marriage promoters claim that marriage should not be just for elites. The emergence of marriage as a marker of class, they believe, is a sign of societal dysfunction.

According to census data released in 2021, 9.5% of children living with two parents – and 7.5% with married parents – lived below the poverty level, compared with 31.7% of children living with a single parent.

Kearney’s argument comes down to: 1 + 1 = 2. Two parents have more resources, including money and time to spend with children, than one. She marshals extensive research designed to show that children from married couple families are more likely to graduate from high school, complete college and earn higher incomes as adults than the children of single parents.

It is undoubtedly true that two parents – that is, two nonviolent parents with reliable incomes and cooperative behavior – have more resources for their children than one parent who has to work two jobs to pay the rent. However, this equation does not address causation. In other words, parents who have stable incomes and behaviors are more likely to stay together than parents who don’t.

Ethnographic studies indicate, for example, that the most common reasons unmarried women are no longer with the fathers of their children are the men’s violent behavior, infidelity and substance abuse.

Moreover, income volatility disproportionately affects parents who don’t go to college. So while they may have more money to invest in children together than apart, when one of these parents experiences a substantial drop in income, the other parent may have to decide whether to support the partner or the children on what is often a meager income.

The impact of having single parents also plays out differently by race and class. As sociologist and researcher Christina Cross explains, “Living apart from a biological parent does not carry the same cost for Black youths as for their white peers, and being raised in a two-parent family is not equally beneficial.”

For example, Cross found that living in a single-mother family is less likely to affect high school completion rates for Black children than for white children. Also, Black families tend to be more embedded in extended family than white families, and this additional support system may help protect children from negative outcomes associated with single-parent households.

Making men more ‘marriageable’

Kearney, to her credit, does note that economic insecurity largely explains what is happening to working-class families, and that no parent should have to tolerate violence or substance abuse. But she doubles down on the need to restore a norm of two-parent families.

Many of her policy prescriptions are sensible. She advocates for better opportunities for low-income men – to make them, in the words of sociologist William Julius Wilson, “marriageable.” Such policies would include wage subsidies to improve their job opportunities, investment in community colleges that provide skills training, and the removal of questions about criminal histories from job applications, so that candidates who have previously been incarcerated are not immediately disqualified.

A new marriage model

What marriage promotion efforts overlook, however, are the underlying changes in what marriage has become – both legally and practically.

The new marriage model rests on three premises.

The first is a moral command: Have sex if you want to, but don’t have children until you are ready. While the shotgun marriage once served as the primary response to unplanned pregnancy, such marriages today often derail education and careers and are more likely to result in divorce than other marriages. Research shows that lower-income women’s pregnancies are much more likely to be unplanned.

The second is the ability to pick a partner who will support you and assume joint responsibility for parenting. As women have attained more economic independence, they are less in need of men to raise children, particularly if their partners are insensitive or abusive. With healthy relationships, couples pick partners based on trust, commitment and equal respect. This is more difficult to do in communities with high rates of incarceration and few opportunities for stable employment.

And the third is economic and behavioral stability. Instability undermines even committed unions. Parents who wait until they find the right partner and have stable lives bring a lot more to parenting, whether they marry or not.

We believe that creating opportunities for low-income parents to reach this middle-class model is likely to be the most effective marriage promotion policy.

Economic support is key

In relationships that fall outside of these premises, 1 + 1 often becomes 1 + -1, which equals 0.

Being committed to a partner who can’t pay speeding tickets, runs up credit card bills, comes home drunk or can’t be relied on to pick up the children after school is not a recipe for success.

Economic principles suggest that businesses with more volatile income streams need a stronger capital base to withstand the downturns. Working-class couples who face economic insecurity see commitment as similarly misguided; without a capital base, a downturn for one partner can wipe out the other.

The Biden administration’s child tax credit expansion included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 helped cut the child poverty rate – after accounting for government assistance – to a record low that year. It did more to address child poverty than marriage promotion efforts have ever done.

Researchers have described such income-support policies as the “ultimate multipurpose policy instrument.” They improve the economic circumstances of single-parent families and, in doing so, may also provide greater support for two-parent relationships.

Policymakers know how to solve child poverty – and these measures are far more effective than efforts to put two married parents in every household.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Apples Magic- Are Buybacks Worth Paying Up For?

Apple’s valuations are near their most expensive levels of the last ten years. Now consider that today’s valuation premiums are amidst a much higher risk-free…



Apple’s valuations are near their most expensive levels of the last ten years. Now consider that today’s valuation premiums are amidst a much higher risk-free bond yield than during most of the previous ten years.

apple valuations

Apple has a market cap of $2.8 trillion. Assuming its price-to-earnings ratio and margins remain stable, Apple must sell nearly $400 billion of products and services each year to keep its share price stable. To fathom that, consider that every man, woman, and child on planet Earth must spend about $45 on Apple products yearly.

The point of sharing those statistics and the valuation premium is to contextualize whether Apple can grow at the growth rate implied by its investors. Further, if its earnings growth alone doesn’t support a valuation premium to the market’s valuation, can the continued use of stock buybacks support the premium?

Apple’s Track Record

The graph below shows Apple shares have provided its investors with a fantastic 20% annualized growth rate for the last 39 years. That is more than double the 8.7% growth rate for the S&P 500 over the same period.

apple stock price

Its exceptional outperformance versus the market is warranted. Since 1993, Apple’s earnings per share have grown at over 3x the rate of the S&P 500.

Apple’s Recent Trends

While Apple may have an incredible record of earnings growth and share price appreciation, current investors must avoid the temptation to rest on prior trends. Instead, their focus should be on what may lie ahead.

The following graph shows the running 3-year annualized growth rates for sales, net earnings, and earnings per share. Recent growth rates are much lower than they have been. We truncated the graph to the last ten years to better highlight the more recent trends.

apple sales and earnings trends

Earnings and sales were boosted in 2021 and 2022 by the stimulus-related spending and inflation caused by the massive pandemic-related fiscal stimulus. Many companies, including Apple, saw demand increase and could expand profit margins, as inflation was easy to pass on to customers.

However, Apple’s earnings and sales growth are returning to pre-pandemic levels. To better appreciate what the future may hold, consider the five pre-pandemic years highlighted in blue. During that period, sales grew by 4.2% annually. Net earnings grew by 4.3% and EPS by 10.4%

The Magic of Stock Buybacks

The price of a stock is not meaningful. Apple stock trades for $182 a share. Its market cap is roughly $2.85 trillion. If the company repurchased all but one share, its market cap would be unchanged, but its share price would be $2.85 trillion. 

That simple example highlights how valuable buying back shares can be for investors.

Back to Apple’s recent EPS, net earnings and sales trends. Its EPS grew roughly double that of sales or net earnings. The graph below helps explain how they pulled off such a feat. Once Apple started buying back shares in late 2013, its EPS grew 4-6% more than its actual earnings.

share buybacks and eps less earnings growth apple

The following graph compares Apple’s annual EPS versus its EPS if it had not repurchased shares. The graph starts in 2013 when Apple began to aggressively buy back shares.

apple eps vs eps constant share count

Why The Premium Versus The Market?

Apple has recently grown its earnings and sales at an approximate 5% growth rate. This is only about 1% higher than the approximate 4% nominal GDP growth from 2017 to 2019. But less than the approximate 9% EPS and sales per share growth of the S&P 500. 

So why are Apple investors willing to pay a premium for subpar growth?

Apple is an incredibly successful and innovative company with a long history of rewarding investors. Investors are willing to pay for the future potential of new products and services with enormous income potential. Such investor goodwill is hard to put a price on.

Passive investment strategies are a second reason. Apple and Microsoft are the two largest stocks by market cap. The increased popularity of passive investment strategies feeds the most extensive market cap stocks disproportionately to smaller companies.

Consider the holdings of XLK, the $52 billion tech sector ETF. Apple and Microsoft make up almost 50% of the ETF. If an investor buys $1,000 of XLK, approximately $500 will go to Apple and Microsoft, and the remaining 62 companies will get the rest.

xlk technology holdings

Finally, and most importantly, are share buybacks. While we can’t quantify what future innovation, goodwill, and passive investment strategies are worth, we can grasp Apple’s ability to continue forward with buybacks.

Future Buyback Funding

The chart below shows Apple has been spending between $60 and $80 billion per year on stock buybacks. Keep that figure in mind as we walk through its sources of cash to continue buying back shares.

apple annual buyback costs

Debt, cash, and earnings are their predominant sources to fund buybacks.

Debt Funded Buybacks

Apple came to market with its first long-term debt offering in 2013, commensurate with its initiation of share buybacks. Apple’s debt peaked eight years later at $109 billion. Using debt to fund share buybacks made sense, with borrowing rates in the very low single digits. However, the calculus has changed, with rates now at 4% and higher.

Cash and Marketable Securities on Apple’s balance sheet are at $61.5 billion, about a year’s worth of buyback potential. While a massive amount of money, it is off its peak of $107 billion.

apple cash and marketable securities

Lastly are earnings. Apple has been earning about $100 billion a year since 2021. Even if they regress to pre-pandemic levels ($50-$60 billion), earnings are enough to continue supporting its buyback program. However, if earnings are employed to buy back shares, it comes at the expense of investments toward innovations and product upgrades. Furthermore, Apple pays about $15 billion yearly in dividends, which also requires funding.

The graph below shows that from 2018 to 2020, Apple spent more on buybacks than it made. It was relying on debt and cash to make up the difference.

buybacks as a percentage of earnings

Over the last two years, buybacks only account for 60% of earnings, allowing cash to grow for future buybacks and investments. Hence, if $100 billion a year in earnings is sustainable, even without growth, $60 to $80 billion a year in buybacks is entirely possible. If earnings retreat to their pre-pandemic level, debt and cash will be required. If interest rates stay at their current levels, debt may not be financially sensible.


Unlike most “growth” companies, a bet on Apple is a bet on their ability to buy back shares. It appears that Apple can continue to buy back its shares with earnings and cash. Such would maintain their higher-than-market EPS growth with or without above-market earnings growth.

Other than negative earnings growth and high-interest rates, a buyback tax on corporations, as is being proposed, could also reduce or eliminate their buyback program. If such a bill were to pass or Apple cuts back on buybacks for another reason, its premium valuation may wither away.

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