BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ Appliance maker Whirlpool Corp. will take a $44 million pretax charge on its 1997 fourth-quarter earnings as a result of reducing costs in its Latin American operations.

The charge will amount to $31 million after taxes and is expected to generate annual after-tax savings of $45 million, Whirlpool said Tuesday.

The charge follows Whirlpool's recently completed purchase of a 66-percent stake in Brasmotor S.A. The holding company controls Multibras S.A., the largest appliance company in Latin America, Whirlpool said.

Whirlpool will consolidate its Latin American holdings in the fourth quarter of 1997, based on its increased ownership position.

The charge is being incurred to improve efficiency and productivity in the Latin American operations, Whirlpool said.

Also Tuesday, David R. Whitwam, Whirlpool's chairman and chief executive officer, said 1997 earnings are expected to top 1996 by roughly 35 percent. Whirlpool earned $92 million in fiscal year 1996.

Whirlpool is among the world's leading manufacturers of major home appliances. Based in Benton Harbor, Mich., Whirlpool operates in 13 countries and markets products under 11 major brand names.