WASHINGTON — Factory shipments of major appliances continued to fall in April, although the declines were less precipitous than the double-digit drops that disquieted the industry during preceding months.
According to the latest sales data from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), total shipments fell 2.6 percent last month to 5.1 billion units, buoyed only by the cooking category, which was the lone sector to show strength, slight though it was. Total cooking wholesale sales edged up 1.7 percent thanks to a 7.1 percent gain in factory sales of microwave ovens, although an 11.2 percent decline in shipments of built-in gas ranges and a 7.6 percent drop in unit sales of freestanding gas ranges offset that solid showing.
By contrast, the kitchen clean up category took the biggest hit, falling 12.7 percent in wholesale sales. Dragging down the sector was a 30.4 percent plummet in factory shipments of portable dishwashers and a 16.8 percent decline in sales of disposers to retailers. The double-digit dips dissipated the impact of the sole category climber, compactors, which rose 12.9 percent.
The core home laundry and food preservation categories fared better, down only 1.3 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. The former saw its strongest sales in electric dryers, which were essentially flat with a 0.3 percent decline, while automatic washers fared slightly poorer, down 0.7 percent. Refrigerators, however, took it on the chin with a 4.3 percent drop in factory shipments, which negated the 18.4 percent gain in factory sales of freezer chests.
The home comfort category was also off, down 2.1 percent on the 24.8 percent drop in dehumidifier shipments and salvaged only by a meager 1 percent gain in wholesale sales of room air conditioners.
The composite AHAM 6 category, comprised of washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers and ranges, summarized the story with its 3.4 percent drop in factory shipments.
But despite the ongoing declines, manufacturers are quick to point out that current sales figures are being compared to last year's record shipments, and that the tide is expected to turn as inventories are worked down and the economy begins to show anticipated signs of strength during the second half of the year.