Fueled by seasonal demand for room air conditioners, along with robust sales of laundry and kitchen cleanup products, factory shipments of major appliances rocketed 12.9 percent last month over a closely comparable year-ago period to 7.2 million units.
However, the double-digit gains masked disconcerting weakness in the core cooking and refrigeration categories, which grew 3.2 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.
The lag in refrigerator sales is particularly perplexing for vendors and dealers, given the product's big ticket and expected seasonal spike.
What's more, the high monthly totals belie what has been so far a sluggish year for white goods, with year-to-date factory sales up a more modest 4.4 percent.
The numbers, which compare year-over-year wholesale sales for the periods of May 1–29, 2004 with May 3–31, 2003, come courtesy of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), which receives its raw data directly from member vendors.
Leading the pack was AC, understandable given the early arrival of summer in many parts of the country. Factory shipments shot up 35.1 percent to 1.7 million units, although year-to-date sales still trail 2003, having slipped 6.8 percent through May 29.
Second place went to home laundry, where wholesale sales of dryers was ahead 15.1 percent, thanks to strong demand for electric units, and washer shipments rose 14.9 percent to some 653,400 pieces.
Hot on laundry's tail was kitchen cleanup, where equally strong performances by dishwashers and disposers sent factory sails soaring 12.6 percent to nearly 1.1 million units.
Dragging down the cooking category was a 14.3 percent decline in shipments of built-in gas ranges, and a slim 1.1 percent gain in factory sales of microwave ovens. Those sectors squashed a brisk 18.1 percent hike in surface cooking unit sales, and a 14 percent gain in built-in electric ranges.
The core categories of washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers and ranges, or AHAM 6, together grew 8.6 percent year-over-year.