updated 7/20/2005 3:29:46 PM ET 2005-07-20T19:29:46

Whirlpool Corp.’s $17-per-share offer for rival Maytag Corp. appears to have foiled an attempt by Haier America and its investing partners to acquire the Iowa-based appliance maker, analysts said Wednesday.

“It’s like being at an antique auction. Your bid is topped and the room looks back to you,” said David MacGregor, analyst with Cleveland-based Longbow Research. “I think Haier’s at a position where they realize they can’t outbid Whirlpool.”

Haier, without comment, withdrew its offer of $1.28 billion, or $16 per share, late Tuesday after Whirlpool, the nation’s largest appliance maker, jumped in with a preliminary proposal for $1.37 billion. Haier America is a New York-based subsidiary of China’s Haier Group Ltd., the communist nation’s largest appliance manufacturer.

Maytag shares fell $1.74, or 9.9 percent, to $15.79 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, near the midpoint of their 52-week range of $9.21 to $22.20.

It’s possible that other bidders might step forward. On Tuesday, executives at Swedish-based Electrolux, the world’s largest appliance maker, left open in their earnings conference call whether they were interested in acquiring Maytag.

“I think that whoever buys Maytag ... will have quite the tough journey,” said Electrolux CEO Hans Straberg.

Whirlpool now will examine Maytag’s finances and operation to see if it wants to make a firm offer, a process that should go quickly, MacGregor said.

“There probably aren’t too many surprises at Maytag for Whirlpool,” he said, noting that some executives, including Maytag Chief Executive Ralph Hake, have worked for both companies at one time or another.

Whirlpool clearly did not want Maytag’s brands — Maytag, Jenn-Air, Amana, Hoover and Magic Chef — to fall to Haier, but the acquisition could be costly, according to an analysts’ report by New York-based Prudential Equity Group.

Including the assumption of debt, pension costs and the likely costs of plant closures, the total cost to Whirlpool could near $3.3 billion.

And the risk still exists that “further adverse fundamental developments could occur to diminish attractiveness of Maytag,” the Prudential Equity report said.

Maytag’s quarterly earnings report was due Friday, with profits estimated at just 10 cents a share, according to analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial.

The Prudential report forecast earnings at 15 cents per share for 2005, but noted that could prove overly optimistic if additional restructuring charges are required this year.

Maytag board members in May accepted a bid of $14 per share from Ripplewood Holdings LLC, a New York-based investment firm. Shareholders are scheduled to vote Aug. 19 on the offer.

Maytag spokesman John Daggett declined to comment on the offers or whether board members would be meeting this week to review them.

In Newton, where Maytag is based, some shareholders were as concerned about the future of their town as their investments.

“My preference is for what’s best for the long run,” said Nancy Watt, owner of Uncle Nancy’s Coffee House and Eatery on the town square.

“Even if it meant losing a couple of bucks (as a shareholder) I would prefer to have the jobs here and keep my neighbors and my customers here.”

Maytag’s stock price has plunged in recent years as the company struggled with increased competition from lower-priced imports and high labor costs. Hake has threatened to close the company’s flagship factories in Newton, where its Maytag washers and dryers are made, and move production elsewhere.

People strolling the town square Wednesday morning each had his or her own opinion.

Gary Smith, 72, worked for Maytag during the 1950s and then opened his own small business, although he still has Maytag stock. He was meeting friends for coffee at the Midtown Cafe, just a couple of blocks from the Maytag factories.

“My opinion is, they take the first bid, we may keep the factory here,” he said. “Whirlpool already has a headquarters, so would they move everything there? Will there be any jobs here?”

Still, he thinks the central Iowa town would survive.

“Maytag has already gotten rid of about 2,000 employees and it hasn’t affected the city. People have managed to go out and to find jobs.”

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