BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ Boosted by a $42 million gain on the sale of its financing unit, Whirlpool Corp. said today that its fourth-quarter earnings more than doubled to $92 million.

The home appliance-maker said its earnings rose 104 percent in the three months ending Dec. 31 to $1.22 a diluted share from $45 million, or 59 cents a share, in the same period of 1996.

On Dec. 31, the company sold Whirlpool Financial Corp., its inventory and financing business, to Transamerica Distribution Finance Corp. for $1.35 billion.

Whirlpool gained $42 million on the sale but lost $14 million on the restructuring of its Latin American operations. Without those nonrecurring items, earnings would have been 86 cents a share, up 45 percent over 1996.

The earnings were in line with Wall Street expectations of about 85 cents a share excluding nonrecurring items. Whirlpool stock closed Monday at $58.18 3/4 a share.

Sales in the fourth quarter rose 18 percent to $2.51 billion from $2.13 billion a year earlier.

Chairman and chief executive David Whitwam said the company realized early last year that worldwide changes in the appliance industry and market required big changes at Whirlpool.

The ensuing restructuring cut Whirlpool's employment by 4,700.

``Our results for the quarter and year demonstrate the success of those efforts, and we are poised to realize continued improvements going forward,'' Whitwam said in a news release.

For all of 1997, Whirlpool lost $15 million, or 20 cents a share, compared with earnings of $156 million, or $2.08 a share, in 1996. Whirlpool took restructuring charges totaling $280 million in the third quarter of 1997.

Without the nonrecurring items, 1997 earnings would have been $238 million, or $3.15 a share.

Sales for the year rose 1 percent to $8.62 billion from $8.52 billion in 1996.

Whirlpool is a leading manufacturer of major appliances, marketing 11 major brand names in 140 countries.