Despite weaker demand in the U.S. appliance industry, Whirlpool Corp.(NYSE: WHR) affirmed its first-quarter and 2003 forecasts today, reporting customers have not shifted to cheaper-brand appliances.

The announcement surprised the market, as rival Maytag Corp.(NYSE: MYG) warned just yesterday it wouldn't meet first-quarter expectations due to weak February results and a shift in consumer appetite toward lower-priced products. Seems a little strange for this to happen to one competitor, but not the other.

Despite rosier predictions by competitors and economists, Whirlpool expected U.S. appliance industry shipments would be down about 4% from a year earlier, with retail sales down 3%. That prediction proved correct. Conversely, Maytag expected shipments to be flat to higher, and only yesterday admitted they are actually likely to fall.

However, with consumer spending weakening and little room for improvement in the housing market, I'm not suggesting now is the best time to take a position in Whirlpool. After all, weak consumer spending means weak profits. Further, at 52 times free cash flow, the stock is hardly cheap.

But, it's nice to see a company stand by its estimates in an environment that's terribly difficult to forecast, particularly when more and more companies are choosing not to give estimates at all.

We really won't know just how clear management's crystal ball is until the firm announces earnings in mid-April, but so far, they've proven more prescient than both economists and competitors.