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Danish Retail Magnate Docks at Pier 1

The buyout binge sweeping across the retail landscape recently spread to the battered-down home furnishings sector, with Linens 'n Things (LIN) getting scooped up in November. Will Pier 1 Imports (PIR) be next?

Pier 1 has more in common with Linens 'n Things now than just decorative pillows and aromatic candles. Last week, Jakup a Dul Jacobsen, the Danish investor who disclosed a stake in Linens 'n Things before it agreed to be acquired by a private equity group, revealed a 10% stake in Pier 1.

Jacobsen, a European retail magnate and chairman of an Iceland-based firm called Lagerinn ehf, franchises Jysk stores (pronounced yoo-sk), a home furnishings chain that's known as the Danish version of IKEA. Jacobsen's chain has 1,000 stores worldwide, with 23 stores in Canada and two in New Jersey under the name Inspiration. Some investors see his interest in Linens 'n Things, which has now shifted to Pier 1, as a sign that he is looking for a cheap acquisition to expand his reach in the U.S. -- the consumer capital of the world.

"It's entirely possible that he views Pier 1 as a potential takeover target," says Morningstar analyst Anthony Chukumba. "Acquiring Pier 1 would give him entry into the U.S. with a company that has a fairly well-known and well-respected name brand, a nationwide store presence and a decent amount of scale."

The presence of Jacobsen at Pier 1 adds one more wrinkle to a value play that has already attracted legendary investor Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) disclosed a 9% stake in 2004. Buffett cut his stake in half as the retailer floundered, and Berkshire now owns about 3 million shares.

Shares of Pier 1 have declined about 50% over the last two years as its sales and earnings have consistently slowed and disappointed Wall Street. So far this year, the stock has shown some signs of life after dipping below $9 in December. Despite a dreary holiday performance, shares are now up 29% for 2006, and with a major merchandise overhaul in the works, investors are starting to look at it as a glass-half-full situation.

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