Howard Schultz’s Legacy: Starbucks Stock Underperforms McDonald’s

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The founder and now-retired CEO and board chair of Starbucks Corp. (NASDAQ: SBUX), Howard Shultz, has said that he is considering an independent run for president of the United States. His announcement has sent some jitters through Democratic Party officials, who see an independent candidacy from the lifelong Democrat as a drain on votes for the Democratic nominee and a boost for President Donald Trump.

While Schultz has no more experience in politics than Trump did, his record as a business leader is available for everyone to look at and take potshots at. Since coming public in June 1992, Starbucks has grown into an $82 billion company that changed the ways that Americans and other people around the world looked at a cup of coffee.

McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) decided to enter the coffee business in 2008, not the most auspicious time to launch a new product, even for one of the world’s best-known brands. The weak economy of the early days of the financial crisis actually may have helped boost the company’s profits as Americans sought out inexpensive food but remained willing to pay a premium price for coffee.

Since introducing coffee drinks in 2008, McDonald’s share price has risen about 214%, compared to a jump of more than 900% for Starbucks. Over the past five years, however, McDonald’s share price has risen by about 90%, compared to an 80% increase at Starbucks. In the past year, McDonald’s stock has outperformed Starbucks shares by more than a factor of five. Since November of last year, when McDonald’s share price growth was nearly seven times that of Starbucks, the coffee store chain has been closing the gap.

What does all that have to do with Schultz’s desire to run for president? Over the long haul, he has been very successful, but over the past five years, his main rival has been gaining ground. Unlike building a business from the ground up over a period of decades, getting elected and governing is a short-term game that gets scored even more often than the quarterly reporting cycle for publicly traded companies. Maybe you can’t win them all, but you have to win most of them. Starbucks hasn’t been doing that for a while.