Benton Harbor, Mich. - Whirlpool's fourth-quarter earnings rose 19.9 percent to $205 million on improvements in its North American business.
Net sales for the three months, ended Dec. 31, slipped 2 percent to $4.9 billion.
Whirlpool said price hikes, enhanced productivity and increased sales of pricier products led to improved profitability in North America. But those gains were pared by weak global demand, higher raw-materials costs, unfavorable currency fluctuations, significantly higher restructuring expense, and reduced production to work down inventory.
In North America, sales rose 1 percent to $2.6 billion despite a 3 percent decline in unit shipments, reflecting improved product mix and a recent round of price increases. This, plus employee benefit reductions and $96 million recouped from a supplier over quality issues, more than offset lower unit volume, higher material costs and the impact from production slowdowns. As a result, operating profit rose 281 percent, to $202 million.
"We exit 2011 with improving product price/mix, significantly lower inventory levels and strong new product innovation," Whirlpool chairman/CEO Jeff Fettig said in a statement. "As we enter 2012, we are executing strong actions to continue to improve operating margins through our cost and capacity reduction initiatives, ongoing productivity programs and previously announced price increases ... These initiatives are the key drivers to improving our operating margins throughout 2012."
For the full year, net sales rose 2 percent to $18.7 billion and net income fell 60 percent to $408 million.
Looking ahead, Fettig said Whirlpool is projecting relatively flat to slightly improving industry demand during the year -- including forecasts of flat to 3 percent industry growth in North America -- and has "planned our business accordingly."