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Ahead of the Bell: Customer gains lift Starbucks

NEW YORK (AP) -- Starbucks shares perked up in premarket trading after the coffee chain said it got better at attracting customers and plans to open more stores, fueling growth.

The Seattle-based company said Thursday that higher customer traffic drove global revenue at cafes open at least a year up 6 percent during the fiscal fourth quarter, which runs from July through September. That measures sales trends at established stores, an important gauge for a retailer that strips out effects from new and closing stores.

Starbucks is growing even as worries about the global economy's health weigh on consumers. The chain's 7 percent gain in global revenue at cafes open at least a year for the Americas region was particularly strong given that the food and restaurant sector's sales trends were "lackluster" in July, August and September, said Mark Kalinowski of Janney Capital Markets. He kept a "Buy" rating on Stabucks Corp.'s shares.

Jefferies' Andy Barish also commended the chain for pushing to increase traffic. For example, the U.S. sales spike in the fourth quarter was due in part to the company's strategy of offering customers in the morning a discount on another purchase if they brought back their receipt in the afternoon. Executives launched the promotion after noticing traffic trends slowing in the summer.

Barish, who also has a "Buy" rating on Starbucks, predicted that momentum would continue in the current quarter as seasonal beverages like Pumpkin Spice and new drinks like the Christmas Blend Blonde boost sales.

Starbucks plans to open 1,300 new stores in fiscal 2013, up from the 1,063 it opened in the year that just ended, and nudged its profit forecast for the year higher to $2.06 and $2.15 per share from a previous outlook of $2.04 to $2.14 per share. It also raised its quarterly dividend 24 percent, or 4 cents, to 21 cents.

Starbucks gained $3.69, or 8 percent, to $50.31 before the market open. Shares have gained 1.3 percent this year.