Whirlpool earnings, sales fall, still top analysts' forecast

North American sales fall nearly 3 percent

The world's largest appliance maker on Thursday reported a lower fourth-quarter profit and sales, but still topped analysts' expectations.

Whirlpool Corp., with an appliance manufacturing plant in Amana, posted net income of $122 million, or $1.52 a share, for the quarter that ended Dec. 31, down from $205 million, or $2.62 a share, a year earlier. Excluding special items, Whirlpool earned $2.29 a share.

Wall Street analysts on average were looking for $2.23 per share.

Whirlpool sales fell 2.4 percent to $4.79 billion from $4.9 billion in the final quarter of 2011. Analysts had been expecting sales of $4.88 billion for the period.

For the year, Whirlpool net income rose to $401 million, or $5.06 per share, from $390 million, or $4.99 per share, in 2011. Sales slipped to $18.1 billion in 2012 from $18.7 billion in the previous year.

Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool has benefited from reducing costs and production capacity, raising prices and taking various steps to increase productivity. The company also has focused less on the lower-end appliance market in recent quarters to protect margins.

"Those actions, combined with improving trends in U.S. housing and growth opportunities in emerging markets, create positive momentum going into 2013," said Jeff Fettig, Whirlpool chief executive officer in a statement accompanying the company's earnings release.

Whirlpool sales in North America fell about 3 percent to $2.5 billion. The company expects a 2 percent t0 3 percent increase in industry unit shipments, citing improving housing market trends in the United States.

Whirlpool was less than optimistic about European sales, saying it expects 2013 industry unit shipments to stay flat in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

For all of 2013, Whirlpool said it expects to report earnings per share of $9.25 to $9.75. Wall Street analysts are expecting earnings of $9.17 per share.

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