BENTON HARBOR, Mich., Feb. 26, 2002 (AP) - David R. Whitwam, Whirlpool's chairman and chief executive, said Tuesday that conditions in the U.S. major appliance industry improved during January and February, leading Whirlpool to the upward revision.

"This industry forecast that we revised for North America ? we had gone into this year and said this would be an industry that would be flat essentially," he told analysts at the Global Industrial Manufacturing Conference in New York. "Now we're saying it will be up about 2 percent."

He said the company anticipates that earnings will be 15 percent to 20 percent higher than its first-quarter 2001 earnings of $1.10 per share, or about $1.27 to $1.32. Whirlpool is expected to release its earnings report for the current quarter on April 18.

A consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial-First Call is for Whirlpool to report earnings per share of $1.23.

Whirlpool continues to forecast a 5 percent to 10 percent improvement in earnings for all of 2002 when compared with last year, but may revise the forecast if industry conditions continue to strengthen, Whitwam said.

"As we look at this full year, we think we've got great momentum as we've gone into now almost two months of the first quarter," he said.

In afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Whirlpool shares were up $5.49 per share, to $73.74.

Witwam also talked with analysts about Whirlpool's global strategy and recent product introductions, including the Polara, the world's first refrigerated range.

He discussed the company's decision, announced Monday, to acquire Vitro SA de CV's majority stake in Vitromatic SA de CV, a Monterrey, Mexico-based joint venture that manufactures and distributes appliances.

Whirlpool and Vitro entered into the joint venture in 1987. Whirlpool, which now owns a 49 percent stake, plans to purchase Vitro's 51 percent interest for $150 million in cash and assume all of Vitromatic's $220 million debt.

Benton Harbor-based Whirlpool is the world's largest seller of major home appliances.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press