Washington — Factory shipments of major appliances fell 14 percent in February, as the downturn in white-goods demand stretches into its third year.
The good news, at least in relative terms, is that the industry has stemmed the freefall in January, when unit shipments plunged 24 percent year over year.
According to the latest sales data compiled by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), some 4.6 million units shipped last month, compared with 5.3 million in February 2008. Year-to-date shipments were down 19 percent, to 8.6 million units.
Leading the February decline was the home-comfort category, which fell 25 percent year-over-year. The sector was dragged down by a 30 percent drop in room air shipments, which was slightly offset by a 3.6 percent gain in dehumidifiers — one of the few product areas to show an increase last month.
The biggest gainer in February was chest-style, freestanding freezers. Unit shipments of this storage product skyrocketed 26 percent, as cash-strapped consumers opt to buy more of their food in bulk from wholesale clubs and other outlets. However, the trend did not carry over to upright freezers; unit shipments of this style fell nearly 17 percent, as did the core refrigerator segment, leaving the food preservation category with a 12.4 percent decline for the month.
Kitchen cleanup had a tougher time, falling 14.5 percent on a 38 percent drop in compactor shipments. This was offset by a 16.2 percent decline in dishwashers and a 12.4 percent slip in disposer shipments.
The key home laundry category fell nearly 13 percent, with washers off by 11.4 percent and electric- and gas-powered dryers down by 14.5 percent.
Cooking enjoyed something of a comeback in February, with a relatively slight 6.3 percent drop off, to 1.3 million units shipped. Declines were mitigated by a 3.5 percent uptick in microwave oven shipments, which masked the 29 percent drop in electric ovens and the 34 percent fall in gas-fueled surface cooking units.
AHAM 6 shipments, comprised of the core washer, dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer, range and oven categories, fell 14 percent.