Here in the U.S. (and in Canada) we pretty much take it for granted that our home will be equipped with a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, a stove, a refrigerator, and a number of other appliances. Of course, that is not the case everywhere in the world but it may soon be. Most consumers in emerging markets want these time-saving conveniences in their homes and they're proving that by buying them as soon as they can afford to do so. After all, no one really wants to go down to the riverbank to do their laundry when they could have a machine do the same work in the comfort of their own home.
It wasn't always this way, even on this privileged continent. When I was growing up, public laundromats seemed to be everywhere, but during the last two decades there has been a steady decline in their number. I wasn't able to find comparable research for the U.S. or Canada but in the U.K. the number of public laundromats peeked at 12,500 in the early 1980s and has since dwindled to just 3,000. There are still 35,000 laundromats and coin-operated washing machines in the United States but I'm guessing those numbers are down significantly from their heyday.
So who cares how many public laundromats are there are in North America and the U.K.? I do, and here's why. As emerging markets continue to foster more middle class consumers, their aspirations will be the same as ours were in the post-World War II era. That means they will want to buy as many time-saving products like washers and dryers as they can. I have a second home in Mexico and when I am not dodging the drug lords I'm looking for dishwasher detergent. Guess what? It's almost impossible to find because no one in the area owns dishwashers yet, but they all want one.
The company that is best positioned to take advantage of this long-term trend is Whirlpool Corporation (NYSE:WHR). It has been making this equipment for over 100 years and currently holds the leadership position with 15% of the global market and 35% of the market in North America. The Whirlpool brands will be instantly recognizable to North Americans. They include KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Maytag, and, of course, Whirlpool. Globally, they market under different brand names and they are particularly strong in Brazil and India.
I've been waiting for an opportunity to buy into Whirlpool for the past year and the stock has finally pulled back to my target entry point. Unfortunately, as I write, Barrons has just published a very positive article about the company, pointing out that the price was off 33% from its April high (when it hit $118.44, figures in U.S. dollars). The article also noted that the stock was trading at just eight times the company's forward earnings projections of $9.81 a share. As you might expect, the article gave a lift to the shares, which closed at $73 as recently as Nov. 30 but is now at $85.74. But it is still down about 28% from the 52-week high with a forward earnings projection of 9.66.
Looking at the recent history, Whirlpool stock has moved up strongly since the crash. But I resisted buying it because I felt that, until the housing markets improved and U.S. homeowners cleaned up their balance sheets, consumer durables were not likely to do very well. I underestimated how quickly the company's business in emerging markets would grow. Asia and Latin America account for 28% of Whirlpool's sales, which is up from 16% in 2005. The company projects that emerging markets will account for over 30% of its revenue by 2014.
Speaking of revenues, the company had sales of approximately $17 billion 2009 and is projecting annual revenue growth of 5% to 7% with annual earnings growing at 10% to 15% going forward. Third-quarter results were announced at the end of October with the company reporting net earnings of $79 million ($1.02 per share, fully diluted) compared to $87 million ($1.15 per share) during the same period last year. Sales for the third quarter came in at $4.5 billion which is essentially flat from the third quarter 2009. Sales in Europe were down 8% and in North America down 3%. However, Latin America showed an increase of 13% from the prior year and Whirlpool Asia was up by 21% over 2009.
This is a big company with 67,000 employees worldwide and 67 manufacturing and technology centers around the world. The company has done an excellent job of modifying its products to reflect the needs of the local markets. For instance, in India, they produced inexpensive three-door refrigerators with a special vegetable drawer. In Brazil, they produce washers for as little as $150 to help reflect the lower per capita income of the back country compared to what we enjoy here. Their next big push is to move more aggressively into China where they have relatively modest exposure. That should be another reason to like the stock.
I see no reason why the shares can't gradually regain the 52-week high of $118.44. So this blue-chip company offers good growth potential plus an annual dividend of $1.72 a share for a yield of 2%.
Action now: Buy at $85.74 with a target of $118.
Disclosure: I am long WHR.