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SEATTLE-The Starbucks Corp. plans to open at least 2,600 new stores in 2008, the company said Wednesday in outlining its growth plans during a conference call with financial analysts to discuss the latest Starbucks quarterly results. The 2,600 stores will represent an increase of 200 more than the chain’s goal of opening 2,400 new locations in this fiscal year.

Jim Donald, Starbucks president and CEO, said that the company is determined to continue its expansion despite “the difficult operating environment of rising expenses.” He pointed out that the company has achieved its growth objectives this year while operating in what is already a challenging environment.

Donald cited the 668 new Starbucks store openings in the third quarter ended July 1, a record for a third quarter for the company, and said that the chain is on track to meet its goal of 2,400 new stores for this year. Despite the challenging conditions mentioned by Donald, a recurring refrain these days from retailers, Starbucks boosted its earnings per share to 21 cents versus 18 cents in the third quarter last year, with total net income of $158 million versus $145 million in last year’s third quarter. Comparable store sales grew 4% as revenues climbed 20% to $2.4 billion for the quarter.

Donald pointed out that international operations are playing a bigger role at Starbucks with the revenue from the international segment rising 28% during the latest quarter to reach $432 million.

In addition to forecasting 2,600 new stores next year, Starbucks is projecting comparable store sales growth in the range of 3% to 7%, with total net revenue expected to grow approximately 18%. Starbucks operates about 14,400 locations.

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