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Whirlpool’s Strategic Efforts Bode Well: Should You Hold?


Whirlpool Corporation WHR has been benefiting from strategic initiatives, including solid innovations, robust product pipeline and cost-productivity efforts. These initiatives boost the company’s performance and keep it on track to achieve long-term goals. Strength in the North America Business is an added positive.

Driven by these factors, shares of this Benton Harbor, MI-based company have gained 26.4% year to date, outperforming the industry’s 20.4% rally.

Let’s Delve Deeper

Whirlpool’s cost-productivity efforts, including cost-based price increments and cost-reduction initiatives focused on improving business efficiency, are impressive. The company’s first-quarter 2019 results reflected the effectiveness of the various measures undertaken to boost margins. Although Whirlpool continued to witness higher cost inflation, it implemented global cost-based pricing for trade customers via initiatives to cut fixed overhead expenses by $150 million. Lower fixed costs and favorable product price/mix due to pricing gains aided operating margin expansion in the first quarter.

Management expects price/mix to aid margin growth throughout 2019, with a slight moderation on a year-over-year basis due to comparisons from higher pricing undertaken in the second half of 2018. For 2019, the company anticipates ongoing EBIT margin of 6.5-6.8%, representing a 40-basis points (bps) expansion from 2018. This guidance suggests 150-bps gain from price/mix and net cost improvement of 50 bps based on revised industry demand, and related lower production volume expectation. It expects reduced cost inflation of about 25 bps owing to slowed down raw material cost inflation.

Despite a challenging industry backdrop, Whirlpool is experiencing growth momentum at its North America division. Operating margin at this segment expanded 90 bps, backed by favorable product price/mix, which offset pressures from higher costs, lower industry demand and decline in unit volume. Moving ahead, management expects to continue delivering strong results from this region, driven by favorable price/mix and cost increases.

Whirlpool has outlined significant financial targets through 2020, backed by brand strength and product portfolio. The company aims to deliver organic revenue growth of 3-5% every year. Additionally, it targets EBIT margin to exceed 10% by 2020 and envisions earnings per share to grow 10-15% each year. Furthermore, Whirlpool anticipates delivering roughly 4-5% margin improvement, with 8% margin growth in Europe.

However, Whirlpool has a dismal sales trend, as it lagged the Zacks Consensus Estimate for the eighth straight time in first-quarter 2019. Its top line also fell 3.1% year over year during the quarter, mainly due to lower sales across all operating segments, except North America. Sales across the segments were mainly affected by soft industry demand in some countries, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, China and several European countries. Notably, industry demand declined 7% during the first quarter. Additionally, adverse currency fluctuations continue to remain a headwind.

Bottom Line

We expect the company’s aforementioned strategic efforts to offset these hurdles and continue driving this Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) stock’s performance. Whirlpool’s strong earnings surprise history and long-term expected earnings growth rate of 5.3% appear impressive.

3 Better-Ranked Consumer Discretionary Stocks

Crocs, Inc. CROX has an expected long-term earnings growth rate of 15% and a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

lululemon athletica inc. LULU, carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy), has an impressive long-term earnings growth rate of 18.4%.

Libbey Inc. LBY, also a Zacks Rank #2 stock, has an expected long-term earnings growth rate of 6%.

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