Washington - To borrow from T.S. Eliot, April was the second cruelest month for major appliances this year.
Following a solid start to 2012 with consecutive 4.7 percent and 5.1 percent gains in January and February, factory shipments fell off the cliff in March, stumbling nearly 16 percent.
The free-fall subsided somewhat in April, data from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) show, as wholesale volume decreased 7.6 percent, to just under 4.9 million units.
The downturn can be attributed to several factors including reduced production and consumer price sensitivity, as factory costs continued to increase and price promotions, most notably by Sears, have abated from last year.
The biggest drag on April shipments was in home comfort, where a relatively cool spring led to a 21.1 percent drop in factory shipments of room air conditioners and a 25.7 percent decrease in dehumidifier unit volume year over year.
Home laundry was also hard hit, falling 7.5 percent to about 927,200 units, down from over 1 million last year. Within laundry, dryers took the biggest knock with a 12.1 percent decline, while washer shipments fell a more modest 3.5 percent, but are still off 12.1 percent to year to date.
Cooking was the third-softest product category, falling 4.9 percent on weakness in microwave ovens (down 10.2 percent), gas ovens (off by 7.7 percent). Only electric ovens and gas ranges and cooktops showed strength, with gains of 7.7 percent, 7.1 percent, and 3.6 percent, respectively.
Refrigeration also hit the skids, slipping 2.6 percent on double-digit declines in freestanding freezers and flat demand for refrigerators.
Only kitchen cleanup came up clean last monthly, as wholesale sales rose 7.8 percent on a nearly 9 percent surge in dishwasher shipments, to apprxomately 444, 500 units.
Taken together, the AHAM 6 classification, which includes the core washer, dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer, range and oven categories, dipped 1.7 percent in April but is down 8 percent for the year.