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Williams-Sonoma reduces fourth-quarter earnings estimate

San Francisco - Williams-Sonoma has cut its earnings estimate for the fourth quarter, saying that discounting during the holidays will eat into its profit margins.

The company also said it is boosting the quarterly cash dividend on its stock by 29% and authorizing a new $225 million stock repurchase program.

Williams-Sonoma said its sales of $901 million in the eight-week holiday period ended Dec. 25 were up 4.2% from the comparable period a year earlier, with comparable brand revenue increasing by 4.9%.

The holiday sales growth came in the company's direct-to-customer (online and catalog) segment, which was up 11.6% to $376 million, while in-store retail revenues slipped 0.6% to $525 million.

Because of the "promotional environment" during the holidays, the company said it now expects to report fourth-quarter earnings per share of $1.10 to $1.15, rather than the $1.15 to $1.20 it forecast earlier. In the 2010 fourth quarter, the company had earnings per share of $1.05.

The company said its board authorized a 5-cent increase in the dividend on Williams-Sonoma stock, to 22 cents per share. The new dividend is payable Feb. 24 to shareholders of record on Jan. 27.

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