(Photo courtesy of Copeland Corp.)
ARLINGTON, Va. - The cooling season started heating up early this year - good news for manufacturers and distributors, as well as contractors, for some of whom a busy cooling season can make the difference between lackluster or blockbuster profits.

According to the latest statistics from the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), combined U.S. factory shipments of central air conditioners and air-source heat pumps reached 765,362 units in April; that's a 19-percent improvement over shipments from the same month last year.

Heat pump shipments (173,156 units) were up 27 percent compared to April 2003. Total unitary shipments (2,353,907 units) were up 9 percent for the first four months of 2004 over 2003.

Last year was a record year for unitary shipments, according to ARI, as the 6,807,262 units shipped in 2003 marked a 1-percent increase over 2002. (See "Unitary Shipments Set Record in 2003," Feb. 23, 2004.)

The improvement in unitary shipments, however, goes beyond weather conditions. Looking at the big picture, industry experts point to the political and social horizon.

"When comparing April 2004 with the same month a year ago, it is helpful to remember that [in 2003] America had just embarked on the war in Iraq, consumer attention was focused on the war, and the unemployment picture was negative," commented Ed Dooley, ARI's vice president of communications.

"A year later, there is dramatic improvement in the economy with almost 1 million jobs created since February, the largest three-month increase since the boom period of early 2000," he said.

"Although mortgage rates are rising due to the expectation that the Federal Reserve will increase short-term rates in June, mortgage rates are historically low and new housing is strong, as are replacements shipments.

"Looking forward, it is possible, with average monthly employment gains of 235,000 jobs, to see the employment deficit of the past several years wiped out," he concluded. "This would reinvigorate commercial construction, too."

Key Statistics

According to ARI's report, U.S. factory shipments of unitary air conditioners and heat pumps during April 2004:

  • Totaled 765,362, up 19 percent over April 2003.

  • Had a year-to-date total of 2,353,907, up 9 percent from January through April 2003.

    April 2004 heat pump shipments:

  • Totaled 173,156, up 27 percent from April 2003.

  • Had a year-to-date total 592,658, up 14 percent from January through April 2003.

    April 2004 factory stocks were up 8,945 units from March 2004, and up 128,953 units from April 2003. Distributor inventories were up 24,397 units from March 2004, and down 81,042 units from April 2003.

    April 2004 distributor shipments were up 16 percent from April 2003; year-to-date shipments are up 9 percent.

    - B. Checket-Hanks

    Publication date: 06/14/2004