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S&P lifts credit rating on Whirlpool to 'BBB'

NEW YORK (AP) -- Standard & Poor's Ratings Services on Friday raised its credit rating on Whirlpool Corp., citing an improving economy and stronger housing market. The ratings agency also pointed to the appliance maker's growth in emerging markets and lower cost structure.

The company behind KitchenAid, Maytag and its namesake brand has benefited from better pricing moves, productivity and benefits from cost and factory capacity cuts. Also, steady hiring and near record-low mortgage rates have encouraged more Americans to buy homes and more people are moving out into their own apartments after living with friends and relatives in the recession. All of which bodes well for the maker of washing machines and kitchen equipment.

S&P upgraded Whirlpool's long-term corporate credit rating one notch to "BBB" from "BBB-," the lowest investment-grade rating. The outlook is stable.

The ratings agency said that Whirlpool has cut costs, trimmed inventory and boosted its profitability in response to tough market conditions that it faced in 2011. S&P said these actions helped the company in 2012 and should continue into 2014, allowing Whirlpool to strengthen its credit measures and operating performance.

The Benton Harbor, Mich., company reported 3 percent earnings growth in 2012, compared with the prior year that was boosted dramatically by the benefits of tax credits. Revenue slipped nearly 3 percent to $18.14 billion. Its forecast for 2013 has topped analyst estimates.

Whirlpool shares have more than doubled in the past year, closing Thursday up $2.23 at $118.46, near the stock's 52-week high of $120. Markets were closed Friday for the Good Friday holiday.