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Profit Rises at Williams-Sonoma

The company boosts its full-year earnings forecast above prior estimates.

Shares of


(WSM) - Get Williams-Sonoma, Inc. Report

were moving higher Tuesday after the company posted an increase in first-quarter earnings, easily beating the Wall Street consensus, on a 19.4% rise in revenue.

The company also upped its full-year earnings guidance and announced new initiatives to drive revenue growth.

The stock was lately up 49 cents, or 1.6%, at $31.84.

Williams-Sonoma said Tuesday that earnings rose to $21.4 million, or 18 cents a share, from $13.4 million, or 11 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Analysts had been expecting the company to earn 16 cents a share.

Sales rose to $640.9 million from $536.8 million a year ago. The company said retail net sales increased 15.3% to $349.4 million on an increase in retail square footage it leases as well as the addition of 33 new stores. Same-store sales in the quarter increased 6.8%.

"We delivered the highest first-quarter, pre-tax operating margin and diluted earnings per share in our history," the company said in a statement. "A strong merchandise assortment -- enhanced by a renewed focus on core home furnishings in Pottery Barn -- higher order fulfillment rates in both our retail and direct-to-customer businesses and continuing benefits from successful supply chain and overhead cost reduction initiatives drove these strong results."

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Williams-Sonoma said catalogue and Internet sales increased 24.2% to $246.6 million. Internet sales alone increased 58.6% to $95.6 million year over year.

Gross margin expanded to 38.3% from 38.1% on a rate reduction in occupancy and freight-to-store expenses, and an increase in the net shipping margin.

The company said it is conservative on its 2004 economic outlook and is cautious about overall consumer sentiment but still sees second-quarter earnings of 18 cents to 20 cents a share, within range of analysts' projections for 19 cents a share. Earnings were 15 cents a share in last year's second-quarter.

The company expects revenue in the second quarter to be $669 million to $685 million, up from a previous guidance of $658 million to $674 million. Same-store sales are seen up 1% to 3%.

Looking to full-year 2004, the San Francisco-based company forecast a profit of $1.53 to $1.57 a share, up from its prior guidance of $1.52 to $1.56 a share. Analysts' consensus is $1.56 a share, on average. Williams-Sonoma earned $1.32 a share in 2003.

The company said it will open a new distribution center in New Jersey in the second quarter to aid in its expanding furniture business. Furniture sales are 25% of total sales.

Williams-Sonoma expects sales in 2004 to be $3.13 billion to $3.19 billion, up from a prior guidance of $3.1 billion to $3.17 billion. Same-store sales are seen up 2.5% to 4%.

In the third quarter, Williams-Sonoma said it will launch a new catalogue called Williams-Sonoma Home, and in the fourth-quarter, an e-commerce Web site will launch for its Hold Everything brand.

Separately, the company announced it will repurchase 2.5 million shares of common stock to enhance shareholder value and offset share issuances under its employee compensation plans. As of May 2, there were 116.06 million common shares outstanding.

The operator of its namesake stores, Williams-Sonoma also operates Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, PBteen, Hold Everything, West Elm and Chambers. The company has 520 stores, eight mail order catalogs and five e-commerce Web sites.