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The Real Earnings Potential of Whirlpool Corporation (WHR): General Electric Company (GE), The Home Depot, Inc. (HD)

The key to successful investing is to quickly get to the salient points of why a stock’s value will appreciate. In the case of Whirlpool Corporation (NYSE:WHR) it is not as easily apparent as it may seem. Yes the stock is exposed to the housing market, but it would be a mistake just to determine that it is a play on a recovery in North American housing. In reality it has quite a few profit drivers which I thought investors might like to look into in more depth.

Whirlpool Corporation (WHR)

Whirlpool’s Earnings Drivers

I’m going to summarize some key issues with bullet points and then flesh them out a bit later.

New Home Build does drive demand but housing starts are still relatively low numbers and demand wont kick in until 6-9 months after starts pick up
The replacement cycle will drive demand as the 10 year anniversary of the housing boom takes place
US discretionary demand remains weak
Brazil remains the key to emerging market prospects for Whirlpool
Europe remains a challenge
The policy of trying to expand its higher margin sales
Margin expansion thanks to productivity improvements is being offset by higher input costs

The last five years have been emblematic of the economic recovery for Whirlpool Corporation (NYSE:WHR) and its chief rival in the home goods appliance market General Electric Company (NYSE:GE). A struggling North American consumer coupled with housing being at the epicenter of the crisis hit the industry hard. Government attempts to stimulate spending had an affect in 2010 but this proved all too temporary and the industry fell back into a more normalized demand path. Throw in the obvious difficulties in Europe and it has been a tough period of which last discussed in an article linked here.

The good news is that there does appear to be a sustainable recovery in US housing and efforts to diversify by expanding sales in emerging markets like Brazil. The story going forward will be over the strength of demand spurred by the replacement cycle in the US and the potential for ongoing growth in emerging markets. Meanwhile Europe is in a holding pattern and the attempt to shift sales to higher margin products will carry the concomitant risk of losing market share in a competitive market. New home sales will add some growth kicker, but ultimately discretionary demand in the US for large ticket white goods remains weak.

What This Means in Charts

A breakdown of the last four years revenues and margins gives a pretty accurate picture of what has been going on. There was a nice pick up in 2010 but since then revenue growth has slowed. Incidentally, top line growth was negative in 2012 but this is largely due to foreign currency effects and lower tax credits. Stripping these effects out, sales rose 3%. On the plus side, productivity improvements helped margins rise in 2012.

As for the optimism over the replacement cycle this is largely due to the timing of the post 2000 housing boom. In order to demonstrate this I’ve taken some data from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. In this case I’m looking at automatic washers but the trends are the same across most categories.

While the evidence is compelling, it is one thing to draw up a balance sheet and assume a depreciation rate of 10% and assume that goods should and will get replaced over 10 years and it is another thing for it to actually happen. For example many commentators have been amazed by how the average life of a car in the US has gone up and up, far exceeding historical norms. Will this be the case for household appliances? It’s possible, but one thing that is sure is that in this environment consumers will be reluctant to make discretionary spending decisions over large ticket appliances.

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