UPDATE 2-Williams-Sonoma shines in holiday quarter

Tue Mar 19, 2013 5:43pm EDT

By Dhanya Skariachan

March 19 (Reuters) - U.S. home goods chain Williams-Sonoma Inc on Tuesday reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit, aided by fewer discounts and strong online sales in the holiday season.

The results coincided with housing data that showed groundbreaking to build U.S. homes rose in February and that permits for construction climbed to the highest level since 2008, raising hopes for the housing market and retailers who focus on homeowners.

The company, which runs Williams-Sonoma cookware stores and Pottery Barn and West Elm furnishing chains, also raised its quarterly cash dividend by 41 percent, to 31 cents a share, and approved a new $750 million stock repurchase program.

In the years after the 2007-09 recession, the company has focused on selling more through its website and catalog, helping it become the e-commerce leader among home furnishings chains.

Sales in its direct-to-consumer business, which includes catalog and e-commerce, rose 19.3 percent in the fourth quarter, covering the busiest selling season of the year.

Williams-Sonoma's market share has risen 33 percent over the past five years, data from Euromonitor International showed.

Net earnings rose to $133.7 million, or $1.34 a share, from $122.6 million, or $1.17 a share, a year earlier. Analysts were looking for $1.29 a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Sales rose 10.9 percent to $1.41 billion in the quarter, ended Feb. 3, above analysts' expectation of $1.40 billion.

For the current fiscal year, the company forecast full-year earnings of $2.65 to $2.75 a share on sales of $4.20 billion to $4.28 billion.

Williams-Sonoma shares rose 5.3 percent to $47.60 in after-hours trading on Tuesday.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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