We're a society of adulators. When someone does well, we get very, very excited. When someone does well more than once, we lose our collective mind. In 1988, Pat Riley -- then coach of the Lakers -- trademarked the phrase "three-peat" to refer to a team winning a championship three times in a row. That's how much we like to watch people win -- we trademark words to indicate that they've done it. It's no wonder that I'm so excited about Williams-Sonoma (NYSE: WSM ) in 2013.
Last year was fantastic. The company announced new plans to expand internationally, revenue and earnings per share were all up, and the outlook for its full fiscal year looks great. Investors reaped some of those rewards, as well, with the stock up 12% over 2012. I think Williams-Sonoma has a great chance to repeat in 2013, and here's why.
In what is turning out to be one of the slowest recoveries on record, housing is finally making some headway. While people aren't rushing out in droves to build new Hobbit holes, they're at least buying more than they were. New construction should finish 2012 at its highest point in four years, and sales of existing homes are at their highest since late 2009.
That doesn't mean that we're out of the woods, but it's a good sign for new-home supporters like Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) , Lowe's (NYSE: LOW ) , and Williams-Sonoma. Home Depot saw a 4% increase in comparable-store sales in its last quarter, while Lowes put up a 2% increase. Neither increase is a world-beater, but both point to renewed interest in new homes. Williams-Sonoma is riding the same train, and comparable-store sales were up 3% in its last quarter. All signs point to housing continuing on its slow track in 2013, which should benefit all three retailers.
Even if the housing market here fails to pick up steam, Williams-Sonoma has the benefit of expanding overseas. Last year, the company announced plans to expand into Australia, opening its first corporate-owned international location. The Whitman's Sampler-style store will contain stores representing the company's main brands: a Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, and West Elm.
The location is excellent, as Sydney has recently seen an increase in wages and a fall in housing prices, making it more affordable to purchase a house there than any time in the last 10 years. Williams-Sonoma's brand should also be a nice fit, with its emphasis on wine and cheese culture, and a "cook it yourself" vibe. The store is expected to open in the first part of 2013, so look for sales figures to roll in over the course of fiscal 2014.
Finally, Williams-Sonoma continues to be a market leader in its niche. Competitors like Restoration Hardware (NYSE: RH ) have never been able to match Williams-Sonoma's stability and design. Restoration Hardware fell behind in the mid-2000s, went private, and has only recently come back to the market. While I like its long-term prospects, it simply doesn't have the footprint required to compete with Williams-Sonoma. It has a mere 73 stores, while Williams-Sonoma has 190 Pottery Barn locations and 260 Williams-Sonoma brand locations.
On top of its slim footprint, Restoration Hardware is also hampered by its operational income. With so much being put back into rebuilding the business, last quarter the company managed a meager 1% operational margin. That's a long way from Williams-Sonoma's 7.5%, and a long way from being sustainable.
The bottom line
Williams-Sonoma should have an excellent 2013. With housing continuing to recover, an international expansion plan that makes sense, and little competition at home, the company is well positioned for growth. At its current price, Williams-Sonoma is trading at under 20 times earnings, which puts it near average for its sector. But that average price should pay out disproportionately high over the next year.
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