reiterated on Tuesday that it expects fourth-quarter earnings to beat the bottom line in the year-ago period, but the appliance maker also warned that meeting Wall Street's expectations will be "a challenge."

The Newton, Iowa, company said it expects to top the profit of 40 cents a share, excluding charges, in the fourth quarter of 2000, but added that meeting the consensus estimate would be "a challenge to achieve." Eight analysts polled by

Thomson Financial/First Call

reduced their estimate to 45 cents a share from 47 cents earlier this month.

For the remainder of the year, Maytag said it expects earnings in each quarter of 2001 to improve sequentially, but the gains may not be as large as the company initially projected. The company is scheduled to report fourth-quarter earnings on April 17.

The company also said it expects to recognize a tax benefit of $42 million, or 53 cents a share, in the first quarter, associated with an

Internal Revenue Service

audit settlement.

Shares of Maytag fell 62 cents, or 1.9%, to $31.57 in recent

New York Stock Exchange


"While there is weakness in industry sales of major appliances continuing from late last year, Maytag is seeing somewhat stronger than industry sales and share gains in some product categories," the company said in a statement. "That strength is offset by severe pricing pressures and additional investments we are making in advertising, merchandising and product development."