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This Home Furnishings Company Is A Bit Too Pricey: Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (WSM)

Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (NYSE:WSM) is one of the leading retailers of high-quality goods for the home, with well-known brands such as Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and West Elm.  Since bottoming out at $4.35 in 2009, when pretty much all of retail was in a free-fall, the stock has rebounded and more, and is currently trading around $47, higher than it ever was before the crash.  My only problem is that now the stock may be getting a little too expensive, and I’m not so sure that the company’s earnings growth warrants its high valuation.

Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (NYSE:WSM)Williams-Sonoma sells its products both through its retail stores (56% of sales) as well as its direct-mail catalogs (44% of sales). Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (NYSE:WSM) stores offer mainly culinary equipment, such as cookware, cutlery, glassware, and specialty foods.  Pottery Barn offers mostly home furnishings as well as bed and bath products. West Elm sells furniture, decorative items, and lighting accessories.

The company competes with other retail chains such as Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (NASDAQ:BBBY) and Pier 1 Imports, Inc. (NYSE:PIR), as well as with larger discount retailers such as Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT), which I believe is actually the biggest threat to all three of the other retailers mentioned.

Bed, Bath, and Beyond sells a very broad range of domestic merchandise such as bed linens and bath items, as well as basic housewares and home furnishings. The company operates around 1,000 stores, and expects to grow to around 1,300 stores in the U.S. and has just begun expanding to Canada. One thing I love about Bed, Bath, and Beyond as an investment is their excellent balance sheet, with about $1.8 billion in cash and no debt.

Pier 1 specializes in imported decorative home furnishings and gifts, and operates over 1,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Pier 1’s stock has undergone one of the best post-crisis rebounds in history, trading as low as 10 cents per share as recently as 2010, pretty far from its current level of around $22.50. In other words, if you were to have invested $1,000 in Pier 1 at the right time, it would be worth around $225,000 currently! I’m not crazy about Pier 1 as an investment right now however, with its lofty 23.5 P/E ratio, not to mention the fact that it is not as cash-rich as the other companies profiled here.

Target and the other giants like it are the ones to really be scared of. I chose Target in particular because they have made the most effort of the giant discount retailers to sell stylish products to attempt to compete with high-end retailers such as Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (NYSE:WSM). Target is actually the number four furniture retailer in the country by sales volume, and their furniture sales are climbing steadily every year.

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