(Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, it was reported that the Fool owned shares of Best Buy. It does not own any Best Buy shares. The Fool apologizes for the error.)
As the number of foreclosures escalates and inflation pressures for food and fuel continue to pinch consumers, the last thing on anyone's mind is buying a big-ticket home appliance. That doesn't make for a good trend for Whirlpool
Consolidated sales rose 5.1% on strong international numbers, but thanks to "one of the most challenging operating environments we have seen in three decades" in the U.S., earnings fell 19.6%. According to management's outlook, things likely won't get any easier for the rest of the year.
Whirlpool's CEO cited a "challenging global economic environment" and rising costs for raw materials that go into producing washers, dryers, refrigerators, and other household appliances. Still, sales grew in the double digits in every key region except for the U.S., with notable gains in Latin America (up 24%) and Asia (up 19%). The growth was in a much more pedestrian single-digit range when stripping out the benefits of a weak dollar, but growth in operating profits held up quite well abroad.
The problems are in North America, where sales fell 3% as industry shipments to customers such as Best Buy
That's a pretty big drop, demonstrating that Whirlpool can indeed count on the cost-cutting benefits from acquiring archrival Maytag to weather the chilly economic climate. Things could get worse, especially if international demand catches a cold from U.S. difficulties, but as it stands, the stock is now trading at only about 10 times this year's earnings -- if Whirlpool hits the high end of its goals. For now, I'll stay on the sidelines, but the company is worth keeping an eye on as the undisputed global leader in home appliances.
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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.