Quarterly results from Whirlpool Corp , Fortune Brands and several other manufacturers pointed to slight improvements in the U.S. housing market, sending their shares higher.

The news came as the National Association of Realtors reported sales of previously owned U.S. homes surged to a two-year high in September.

Whirlpool posted far higher-than-expected third-quarter earnings and boosted its full-year forecast on Friday, helped by aggressive cost cuts to counter tepid demand for its appliances.

But the world's largest appliance maker, whose brands include Maytag and KitchenAid, also brightened its industry shipment outlook for the United States. It said it expected a decline of about 10 percent in 2009 from 2008 levels, having earlier forecast a drop of 10 percent to 12 percent.

Shares of Whirlpool rose 4.6 percent.

The company's slightly more upbeat comments were echoed by Fortune Brands Inc , which makes Moen faucets as well as Jim Beam bourbon. The company raised the low end of its full-year profit forecast, partly because of signs of stabilization in the U.S. new-home construction market.

Honeywell Chief Financial Officer Dave Anderson noted positive point-of-sale trends at major retailers for its thermostats and other consumer products. The diversified U.S. manufacturer reported a better-than-expected third-quarter profit.

Ingersoll-Rand , a maker of heating and cooling systems for homes, businesses and transport, said the U.S. housing market and replacement spending remain weak but are now falling at a slower rate. The company, which makes security products like Shlage locks, posted better-than-expected earnings on Friday.

Ingersoll's biggest segment, which provides air conditioning systems and services, said commercial revenues fell by 16 percent, while sales to residential customers were down much less, at 6 percent.

Fortune Brands shares rose 4.1 percent, Honeywell was up 0.4 percent, while Ingersoll gained 1.0 percent.

Sales at appliance makers like Whirlpool and Sweden's Electrolux have suffered in the global economic slowdown as consumers pull back spending on nonessential items.

Whirlpool, whose other brands include Jenn-Air, Amana, Brastemp, Consul and Bauknechtand, has seen consumers delay replacement purchases, even for appliances that are beyond repair. And some customers have traded down to lower-priced brands from competitors.

While Whirlpool saw sales perk up in Brazil and Asia, it said that demand was still uncertain in many markets.

Europe, in particular, continued to hurt. Whirlpool said it still expected full-year 2009 industry unit shipments to fall about 13 percent from last year in the region.

In the third quarter, Whirlpool's net income fell to $87 million, or $1.15 a share, from $163 million, or $2.15 a share, a year earlier. Analysts on average were expecting 77 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Sales at the Benton Harbor, Michigan-based company fell 8 percent to $4.5 billion.

For all of 2009, Whirlpool expects earnings of about $4.25 a share, up from its prior outlook of $3.50 to $4.00. Analysts on average were expecting $4.05.

(Additional reporting by Nick Zieminski and Martinne Geller in New York and Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)