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Electrolux optimistic in forecast for North America

Swedish appliance maker Electrolux expects strong sales in North America this year, even as sales in Europe and some emerging markets, such as Brazil, continue to struggle.

“We’re quite optimistic about the continued growth in the housing market here in North America,” said Jack Truong, CEO of the company’s Charlotte-based North America division.

Electrolux said its North American sales rose 7 percent to $1.2 billion. An increase in sales of major appliances drove the growth, Electrolux said.

“In Europe, the market remained weak,” Electrolux chief executive Keith McLoughlin said in a statement. “North America recorded another quarter of strong organic sales growth.”

Electrolux’s sales totaled $4.4 billion in the fourth quarter, down 1 percent compared with the same period last year. The company slipped to a $152 million loss, down from a $45 million profit last year, as adverse exchange rates and one-time restructuring charges weighed down results.

Electrolux expects appliance sales in North America to grow 4 percent during 2014, compared with flat to slightly-positive growth in Europe. Demand was up 10 percent for core appliances in North America in the fourth quarter.

Truong said the company plans to roll out more than 500 new products this year, from clothes washing machines and dryers that can finish a load of laundry in less than 30 minutes to fast-boiling ranges and “smudgeproof” kitchen appliances. “This is going to be the biggest product launch in North America ever,” Truong said.

The majority of those new products, sold under names including Electrolux, Frigidaire and Kelvinator, are designed in Charlotte.

Electrolux is also opening a new “fabric care technology center” just north of uptown to research and design laundry products.

Electrolux said last month that it will double its Charlotte workforce, adding more than 800 jobs in fields such as marketing, research and development, finance and information technology.

The rebounding housing market is spurring more home renovations and new home construction in the U.S., Truong said. That’s prompting more people to replace or install whole suites of appliances at the same time – a trend on which Electrolux will seek to capitalize.

“Our approach in 2014 is not selling individual products,” Truong said. “It’s selling them as a whole kitchen.”

Globally, Electrolux’s business is more challenged. Electrolux said it expects appliance sales in Europe to be “slightly positive” in 2014, while Brazil’s economic troubles are expected to hurt demand for the next several quarters. The company announced last year that it would close a refrigerator and freezer plant in Australia to save money.

Whirlpool, one of Electrolux’s main competitors, reported Thursday that its fourth quarter profits rose 48 percent to $181 million.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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