Washington - Factory shipments of major appliances rose 3.7 percent in December, to some 5.1 million units.
The increase was likely spurred by last-minute buying, as dealers stocked up on inventory in advance of a new round of manufacturer price hikes that went into effect Jan. 1.
The gains helped the push 2011 shipment totals up into flat territory. According to the latest wholesale data from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), total 2011 shipments slipped just 0.4 percent year over year, to about 61.2 million units, although strength in room air masked year-long softness in other core majap categories.
Leading the charge in December was chest-style freezers, shipments of which surged 39.3 percent to approximately 139,300 units.
The month's second-highest gainer was room air, which increased 33.2 percent in unit volume year over year, to some 183,100 pieces.
Coming in at a close third were trash compactors, shipments of which rose 31.3 percent, to about 5,500 units.
Also turning in a strong performance were gas cooktops, which were ahead 16.7 percent in December with 30,000 units shipped.
Core categories posted more modest, but still solid increases, at least compared with most of 2011. Full-size refrigerators were up nearly 5 percent, to 740,400 units; clothes dryers were up 3.2 percent, offsetting a 0.4 percent slip in washers; and the total cooking category rose 2.8 percent on strength in the aforementioned cooktops as well as electric ranges.
December's softest categories included gas ovens, down 6.7 percent, and dishwashers, down 3.1 percent.
For the full year, room air was the hands-down winner with a 19.4 percent gain in 2011 shipments. But the increase stands in sharp contrast with other core categories, which continued to falter amid the prolonged housing market malaise. Among the latter: home laundry, down 6.1 percent for the year; full-size refrigerators, down 4.1 percent; dishwashers, down 3.1 percent; and cooking, down nearly 1 percent.