by Elena Foshay
Starbucks Coffee, one of the success stories of the booming economy and now global symbols of prosperity, is suffering. John Borden of Eyes Not Sold reports that over the last twelve months Starbucks stock has gone down 41% while the S&P 500 is down 3%. Howard Schulz, now beginning his second term as Starbucks’ CEO, reported to Time’s blog,
“for the first time in our history as a company, we have negative traffic this year vs. last.” [link]
Is this a bad sign?
An individual’s daily grande vanilla nonfat latte is a luxury good whose consumption depends on disposable income. Though some would place their latte above other essential items in terms of priority, the marginal propensity to consume lattes becomes lower with permanent decreases in income. Schulz blames the macroeconomy for the Starbucks’ declining performance: Schulz told Time,
“The current economic environment is the weakest in our company’s history, marked by lower home values, and rising costs for energy, food and other products that are directly impacting our customers.” [link]
If disposable income decreases, the daily Starbucks is one of the first things to go.
In his interview with Time, Schulz explained that there is little room for adjustment of Starbucks coffee prices. This is partly due to fairness towards their employees, who enjoy relatively high wages and good benefits. But Schulz also said that Starbucks tested different methods of decreasing prices (like offering $1 coffee or free refills), and “wasn’t happy with the results.” Sticky price logic tells us that, since prices can’t adjust, a decrease in Starbucks consumption will have a multiplier effect. The first response will be a decrease in production, leading to a decrease in employment as fewer baristas are needed, which eventually leads to a decrease in national income. And a decrease in national income, or GDP, that remains consistent over the course of a few months indicates a recession.
Leamon Crooms, posting on the Inside Arizona Business blog, argues that the decrease in consumption of Starbucks is something we should pay attention to. He describes the “Starbucks Recession Indicator,” which shows that:
A recession is approaching if your neighbors are buying fewer and smaller non fat lattes. A recession is here if you are buying fewer and smaller lattes. [link]
If this is true, the drop in Starbucks’ stock prices is something to worry about, particularly if the drop is matched among other luxury brands. Perhaps here we would see a substitution effect towards relatively more inexpensive goods (Dunkin Donuts drip coffee, for example). This increased consumption of drip coffee could mitigate some of the ripple effects, but a recession still seems inevitable.