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2011: The Year Starbucks Redeemed Itself

The coffee giant is regaining former glory.
/ Source: Motley Fool

For a while there, Starbucks looked like it would never regain respect, much less its soul. However, let's face it: In 2011, the coffee giant looked a lot like its old self again.

It can't hurt that founder and CEO Howard Schultz penned a new book, Onward, published in March, that spelled out its share of humility (and the get-up-and-go to make the company great again). Still, Starbucks' 40th birthday left me a little cold; I felt a bit like Starbucks' deal with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to distribute Starbucks K-Cups for the Keurig single-serve brewer might have even been a bit of a cop-out.

Still, as 2011 progressed, Starbucks started pouring on the momentum and banishing more and more doubts. Starbucks refocused its efforts to more effectively expand in huge populous markets like China; although it's talked about this opportunity for years, it seems like the company really means business this time.

Starbucks' recent decision to buy juice company Evolution Fresh might sound like a major $30 million gamble, pitting it against everyone from PepsiCo and Coca-Cola to Jamba Juice, but actually, it's more likely a refreshing twist to add to the Starbucks family, as well as a nod to increasingly popular healthy eating (and drinking) trends.

The coffee giant isn't quite back to its torrid sales growth of the days of yore, but it's absolutely and admirably holding its own against cheaper coffee-slinging rivals like McDonald's and Dunkin' Brands. Starbucks grew its sales by 9.3% in the 12 months ended October 2011, and net income increased by 31.7% to $1.25 billion, or $1.62 per share. Remember, in the very dismal days of 2008, Starbucks only managed a sad $0.52 per-share profit in its entire fiscal year.

As 2011 draws to a close, it feels like a good time to be a Starbucks shareholder, not to mention having hung on and given the company a chance to redeem itself. Even while it's trading at 20 times forward earnings, I believe Starbucks is still a solid buy for long-term investors, too.

A lot of investors are probably wishing they could have picked up Starbucks right at the beginning of 2009 and have rode the stock to four-bagger riches. But now that Starbucks' turnaround is common knowledge, their growth may not be as quick going forward.

Good news is, there are a few beaten-down companies that could explode going forward, just like Starbucks did through 2009. They're outlined in The Motley Fool's special free report: "The Stocks Only the Smartest Investors Are Buying." Some people are scared to touch these stocks-- just as investors were scared of Starbucks in 2009 -- but that's where opportunity lies. The report is free, but it won't be forever, so click here to access your copy now.