Whirlpool (NYSE:WHR) is no stranger to the downturn.

First of all, it should come as no surprise that people aren't lining up to buy brand-new washing machines and dryers. Secondly, although its headquarters are in Benton Harbor, Mich., all the way across the state from those of General Motors and Ford (NYSE:F), that hasn't sheltered the company from the recession.

Hard times
Despite the difficulties of its struggling neighbors, Whirlpool certainly isn't planning to stop fighting the good fight. For the third quarter of 2009, the company's earnings fell 47% from last year's third quarter to $87 million on revenues of $4.5 billion, an 8.2% decline.

The U.S. market is in the tank right now, but the company has experienced some exciting growth in Asia and Latin America, which could continue to be sources of stronger demand for quite some time. Whirlpool will need to compete with Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD) and its Kenmore brand, along with the many industrial powerhouses that produce nearly identical appliances, including General Electric (NYSE:GE) and LG.

Although the competition is fierce and the headwinds are strong, Whirlpool has weathered its share of business cycles. It's even a survivor of the Great Depression.

Silver lining
It is exactly that experience that has instilled confidence among Whirlpool's shareholders. Despite the earnings slip, the numbers came in way above what analysts had expected, and Whirlpool's stock price jumped almost 5% on a day when the broader markets closed solidly in the red. The company announced that it will make sweeping cost cuts to further improve margins, and it expects a robust fourth quarter to help full-year earnings come in ahead of previous guidance at around $4.25 per share.

With shares at $77, though, Whirlpool now trades at about 18 times expected earnings per share, per management's outlook. There's a place for discretionary stocks in every portfolio, but a risk-averse investor should seriously consider whether now's really the best time to buy them.

I like the idea of Asian and Latin American growth, but those two markets contribute only about a quarter of Whirlpool's total revenue. The U.S. is still its biggest market by a wide margin. And with home retailers like Home Depot (NYSE:HD) and Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) still facing falling earnings, I don't expect to see order volumes increase significantly in the near term.

If you're comfortable that the markets are in full recovery mode, though, you should take a good look at Whirlpool.

Do you think the U.S. economy can continue its recovery, or is it about to head off another cliff? Share your opinions in the comments section below.

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Fool contributor Chris Jones owns no shares of any company mentioned in this article. What we have here is ... The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.