Cooking Takes A Tumble As Sept. Sales Slip

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The mid-year rally in white goods sales appears to have petered out.

While year-to-date shipments of major appliance are still ahead 5.1 percent over the comparable period in 2001, according to data from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), the slowdown in sales that began over the summer is gaining momentum.

Its latest report on monthly manufacturer shipments shows that total September factory sales have slipped 7.7 percent over the year-ago period, in an acceleration of August's 3.2 percent drop-off in unit volume.

Leading the retreat was the core cooking category, which fell 19.2 percent to 2.1 million units. The sector was dragged down by a 22.7 percent decline in factory sales of built-in gas ranges and a 26.3 percent plummet in shipments of microwave ovens.

Indeed, all but two cooking classifications — built-in electric ranges and gas surface cooking units (both up 2.5 percent) — suffered declines last month, bringing the year-to-date totals down to 2.2 percent over 2001.

Also taking it on the chin was the home comfort category, which slipped 10 percent last month thanks to a 16.3 percent dip in shipments of dehumidifiers. Room air factory sales were also off, albeit by a more temperate 3.9 percent, although the long, hot summer has helped keep the sector's year-to-date data ahead 10 percent over the first nine months of 2001.

Washing machines were also a wash. Shipments fell 4.5 percent to some 739,300 units in September, but remain ahead of last year's first nine months' tally by the same 4.5 percent. In dryers, a 3.3 percent gain in gas-type units failed to offset a 3.9 percent slip in electric models, contributing to the 3.6 percent dip in total home laundry sales.

Barely squeaking into the plus column was the food preservation category, which was essentially flat with its 0.5 percent gain for the month. Despite a 19.1 percent spurt in sales of standalone freezers, led by a nearly 30 percent gain in upright models, the core refrigeration sector continued to falter, as shipments sank 4 percent to 1 million units.

Once again, dishwashers proved to be the industry's saving grace. Built-in models saw September factory sales soar 11.9 percent to some 638,500 units, which compensated for a 6.3 percent decline in portable machines. Shipments of category mates disposers and compactors were essentially a wash, with the former down 5 percent and the latter up 5.7 percent. Taken together, kitchen clean up sales edged up 3.2 percent.

Perhaps most telling is the 0.7 percent slip in factory sales of the so-called AHAM 6 categories last month. The composite index, comprised of the core washer, dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer and range product sectors, provides a state-of-the-industry snapshot. Despite the flat September, year-to-date sales are still ahead 6.5 percent over the prior-year period.

The AHAM data jibes with this month's third quarter reports from Maytag and Whirlpool. Citing an "admittedly challenging environment for home appliances," Maytag chairman/CEO Ralph Hake described the company's 3 percent sales gain in majaps and floor care for the period as "limited."

For Whirlpool, third-quarter sales grew a more tepid 1 percent.

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