With brand names recognized by just about anyone who has ever separated dark colors from light, Whirlpool is one of the world's top home appliance makers. It specializes in laundry appliances, refrigerators and freezers, cooking appliances, dishwashers, and compressors, which are sold under a bevy of brand names, including Whirlpool, Amana, KitchenAid, Maytag, and Roper. The company markets and distributes these major home appliances in North America, Latin America, EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa), and Asia. It has manufacturing operations in about a dozen countries. Major customers include retailers Lowe's, Home Depot, Sears, and Best Buy.
Whirlpool organizes its business segments by product line: Laundry Appliances, Refrigerators and Freezers, Cooking Appliances, and Other. Net sales made from each of these segments is fairly well distributed. Geographically, Whirlpool's largest markets are North America and Latin America. In North America, it sells some products to other manufacturers, distributors, and retailers for resale in North America under those manufacturers' and retailers' brand names.
Whirlpool's net sales reached $18.7 billion in 2011, about a 2% increase over the prior year. North America net sales decreased 2% in 2011 due to a 2% decrease in units sold, but that was offset by net sales increases in Latin America (8%), EMEA (2%), and Asia (3%), which each saw a favorable impact of foreign currency. Meanwhile, Whirlpool's net earnings dropped to $390 million in 2011, down from $619 million in 2010 but up from $328 million in 2009.
Legal settlements involving a longstanding collection dispute with Banco Safra S.A. and an antitrust investigation into the refrigeration compressor industry by the European Commission also negatively impacted Whirlpool's 2011 results. But with those battles over, the company is looking to improve its operating margins and earnings by implementing cost-based price increases, initiating cost reduction efforts, and making productivity improvements. The company announced it would be closing its refrigeration manufacturing facility in Fort Smith, Arkansas, by mid-2012. In Germany, Whirlpool relocated its dishwasher production facility to lower-cost Poland in 2012. These two closures are expected to result in $400 million in annual cost savings by the end of 2013.
At the same time, these cost savings are intended to give the company some flexibility as it makes continued investments in new product innovation. Capital expenditures for R&D related to new product innovation and improvement of existing products are incrementally rising, reaching approximately $578 million in 2011 compared to $532 million in 2010 and $500 million in 2009. In 2012 Whirlpool opened a new $200 million manufacturing plant in Cleveland, Tennessee. The 1 million-sq.-ft. facility produces premium cooking products, including ranges, ovens, and cooktops. Previously, the company put down roots in Ottawa, Ohio, after acquiring and reopening in 2010 a 500,000-sq.-ft. factory from defunct Canadian appliance maker W.C. Wood.
Whirlpool is looking for longer-term growth to come from certain emerging markets, China and India in particular. In 2012 it entered into a strategic alliance with China's Suning Appliance Co. to sell home appliances there. As part of the agreement, Whirlpool will enjoy access to some of China's smaller, fast-growing cities through Suning's national distribution network of 1,700 retail outlets. Although Whirlpool saw its Asia segment's net sales jump about 31% in 2010, largely led by results in China and India, Asia net sales in 2011 saw only a 2% increase, reflecting signs that the region's hot economic boom may be cooling. – less