Starbucks blames slower China growth on drop in third-party delivery orders

China has been a sweet spot for Starbucks for the past few years, as the country embraces cafes and opens up to drinking coffee over tea while growth saturates back home. (Reuters)
Updated 21 June 2018
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Starbucks blames slower China growth on drop in third-party delivery orders

SINGAPORE/SHANGHAI: Starbucks Corp. has reported a sudden slowdown in China growth just weeks after trumpeting rapid expansion in the country, citing a drop-off in unapproved third-party delivery services whose bulk orders had been clogging up its cafes.
The US cafe chain on Tuesday same-store sales would be flat to slightly negative in its second-biggest market in April-June, versus 7 percent growth a year earlier. The announcement was followed by a 9 percent drop in Starbucks’ share price.
China has been a sweet spot for Starbucks for the past few years, as the country embraces cafes and opens up to drinking coffee over tea while growth saturates back home. Last month, the firm said it aimed to triple China revenue and double cafe numbers to 6,000 by 2022.
But on Tuesday, the company said new cafe openings were cannibalizing customer visits at other stores, as also happened in the United States. However, Starbucks particularly noted a decline in third-party firms — with whom it had no formal arrangements — that placed large orders for delivery to their own customers, often resulting in long in-store queues.
“I think it was driven by the government to want to stop having third parties do that because it was creating annoyances,” Chief Executive Kevin Johnson said on a call with analysts on Tuesday. He said the remedy was to seal a delivery partnership with a “large tech company” by the end of the year.
Reuters was unable to confirm any government measures on the matter.
Third-party “daigou” shopping agents in China offer services via delivery platforms such as Ele.me, backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, and Meituan-Dianping, backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd. Restaurants and cafes can also have official accounts on such platforms, though Starbucks does not.
Mizuho Securities analyst Jeremy Scott in a research note said Starbucks would have been happy for the no-cost custom generated by third-party delivery services, but an official arrangement will likely push up costs.
“While the Street may be willing to forgive a tough May ... the soft comp (comparable store sales) in China is more disheartening given that management is hyper-focused on the market,” said Scott.
Starbucks also on Tuesday said it planned to close 150 cafes in the United States and open fewer locations in its financial year beginning in October, in response to competition that has seen new coffee chains, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants improve quality and cut prices.


Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

Updated 18 November 2018
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Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

RIYADH: Oil prices continued to nosedive last week over demand concerns amid an outlook of a slowing global economy. The strong US dollar weighed on both oil prices and the global demand outlook. Currencies weakened against the dollar, eroding their purchasing power.
Brent was down to $66.76 per barrel and WTI dropped to $56.46 per barrel by Friday. The former came close to its one-year low as both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC released monthly reports that articulated a darkening demand outlook in the short term. This increased fears of an oil demand slowdown. Market fundamentals also suggest that price volatility is likely to remain high in the near-term, although the oil market reached a balance in early October.
OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) arrived with bearish sentiments, revising downward its oil-demand forecast for this year and next, for the fourth month in a row. It forecast that global oil demand will rise by 1.29 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, 70,000 less than what OPEC expected last month. The MOMR also forecast increasing non-OPEC supply growth for 2019, with higher volumes outpacing the annual growth in world oil demand, leading to an excess in supply. The report was welcomed with open arms by the IEA, which had been at least in part responsible for driving sentiment toward a bear market. Surprisingly, OPEC warned that oil demand is falling faster than expected. Necessary action is a must.
Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by while oil markets look as if they are heading toward instability. Markets were expecting severe US sanctions on Iran, which could have resulted in supply shortages once Iran’s crude exports went to zero. The unexpected introduction of waivers to allow eight countries to continue importing Iranian oil, was however an eye-opener. Now, as the world’s only swing producer, Saudi Arabia will have to take other measures to balance oil markets and drain excess oil from global stockpiles.
Despite what some analysts are claiming, there is currently no strategy to send less oil to the US to help reduce US stockpiles. Yes, some have claimed that Saudi crude shipments to the US are at about 600,000 barrels per day this month, which is a little more than half of what was being shipped in the summer months. But the reasons for this are related to seasonally low demand, the surge in US inventories and refineries heading into their winter maintenance season. Remember that November crude oil shipments were allocated to the US refiners last month before the US waivers on the Iranian sanctions were revealed. Also, keep in mind that Saudi Arabia owns the largest refinery in the US, which has a refining capacity that exceeds 600,000 bpd.

Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumblings that the US economic boom is over. 

It must be noted that there is a degree of financial manipulation underway in the oil futures markets. At the moment, there are few places where quick profits can be made, so some investors moved from stocks to commodities. Now, there are downward pressures on oil prices as some commodities market traders went long on oil futures, thinking that crude prices would rise. Then these same traders shorted natural gas, assuming that with a warmer winter, prices of that fuel would fall. Unfortunately for the traders, Trump’s sanction waivers on Iranian crude oil exports and cold weather on the US East Coast, caused exactly the reverse to take place. Oil prices fell and natural gas prices rose. Traders were therefore forced to sell their assets to cover margins, pushing oil prices lower. It is expected that some hedge funds and investment funds will also be moving away from going long on oil futures and this will cause further selling.
Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumbling that the US economic boom is over. The US federal budget deficit rose 17 percent in the 2018 fiscal year. It is now larger than in any year since 2012. Federal spending is up and amidst US President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, and federal revenue is not keeping pace. To make matters worse, the strong US economy and interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve have boosted the dollar.
A strong dollar makes commodities such as crude oil more expensive in international markets and reduces demand. Trump wants oil to be priced as low as possible to help bolster the US economy, which is clearly under strain, and to facilitate sales of crude abroad. But with a looming global oil shortage just a few years away due to a lack of upstream investment, it is incumbent on global oil producers to consider the long term in their output decisions.

* Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil market adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Reach him on Twitter: @faisalmrza