Starbucks Short Interest Soars Nearly 250%

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Wall Street bets that Starbucks Corp. (NASDAQ: SBUX) will continue to struggle soared by about 62 million shares to more than 87 million, a rise of almost 248%. The short interest data are for the period that ended October 15.

Skepticism about growth prospects for Starbucks, both inside the United States and overseas, has grown recently. Much has to do with the breakfast success of McDonald’s, which recently posted strong earnings, and Dunkin’ Brands, which has begun to chase Starbucks in the designer coffee segment with new lattes, macchiatos and a rainbow of new coffees.

Starbucks’s trouble showed up in its earnings report for the period that ended July 1. Same-store sales were depressing. The coffee company said:

Global comparable store sales increased 1%, driven by a 3% increase in average ticket

Americas and U.S. comparable store sales increased 1%
CAP [China, Asia, Pacific] comparable store sales decreased 1%
China comparable store sales decreased 2%

This means that people spent slightly more at Starbucks per visit. However, traffic growth is flat. Kevin Johnson, Starbucks CEO and president, commented about earnings:

Starbucks record performance in Q3 reflects successful execution against our strategic growth priorities and our commitment to deliver predictable, sustainable growth at scale – and meaningful increases in long-term value – for our shareholders.

Flat growth does not measure up to those goals.

Starbucks continues to take more stabs at innovation. People can order drinks with their phones and pick them up at store locations. The company has a sophisticated car brand loyalty program. Its employee benefits continue to improve, although its worker pay is close to the bottom among large American companies.

Short sellers recently have gambled that Starbucks can’t get out of its funk.