Washington - Demand for white goods grew in March, with total factory shipments gaining 10.5 percent over the prior year period, according to the latest unit sales data collected by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM).
But the double-digit gain, which was achieved on the back of a seasonal dealer buildup of room air conditioners, belies continued weakness in the industry's core categories. Indeed, while wholesales sales of ACs rocketed 72.5 percent in March, the so-called "AHAM 6" - a hybrid classification comprised of the key laundry, dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer and range categories - edged up only 0.8 percent, and was down 1.7 percent for the first quarter.
The gloomy selling environment was reflected in dour first quarter earnings reports from Maytag, whose sales were down 4.1 percent, and GE, whose combined majap and light bulb businesses saw a 7 percent loss in revenue.
Adding to the somber outlook, Whirlpool lowered its forecast for full-year industrywide shipments from 2 percent to flat. "We continue to see uncertain economic and geopolitical environments in most markets in which we operate," said chairman/CEO David Whitwam.
Especially hard hit in March was the cooking category, which fell 7.3 percent. Refrigerators also took it on the chin with a 3.6 percent drop in unit volume, while dishwashers were down 1.2 percent in wholesale sales.
On the plus side, a 6.8 percent hike in sales of dryers, and a more modest 3.6 percent gain in washer shipments, helped home laundry grow 5.1 percent for the month, to 1.67 million units.