Recreational boat sales slipped in April for the third month in a row as the spring selling season continued to disappoint the industry.
Sounding Trades Only reported that even the aluminum pontoon category, a standout during the recovery that began last year, lost ground. Pontoon sales fell 3.6% to 2,522 boats from the same month a year earlier in 30 early reporting states that comprise 67% of the national market, according to figures compiled by Statistical Surveys Inc.
Sales of aluminum fishing boats were up 3.8% to 3,365, helping to balance the decline among pontoons and typifying an up-and-down April pattern among the industry’s main powerboat segments, a group that consists of two aluminum and five fiberglass categories. Sales for the group were close to flat, falling 0.7%, or 70 boats, to 10,610.
Industrywide, sales in the early-reporting states were 5.2 lower for the month at 15,824 boats. A year ago, with all 50 states reporting, sales totaled 26,130 in April, up from 22,415 in the same month in 2011.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat [the April results],” said Ryan Kloppe, national marine sales manager at Statistical Surveys, noting the uneven category-to-category results.
Builders blamed poor March sales on chilly, wet early spring weather and Kloppe agreed that April was still a cold month in the Midwest, but he said the weather was improving by the end of the month, leaving no easy answer for why sales continue to lag.
Kloppe said he has spoken to dealers who told him they have made sales that haven’t been reported because the boats have yet to be delivered.
“I’m eagerly expecting the [50-state] quarterly numbers to see whether we can even out [some of the inconsistencies],” he said. Those figures will be available by mid-June.
With one month to go in the spring selling season, sales were down 3.9% for the year at 29,272 boats in the main segments and 8.1% industrywide at 42,710.
In recent years the marine industry has battened down its hatches in an effort to survive the economic storm.
Beach Carolina Magazine reported that depressed housing prices, stock prices and employment levels placed the economies of the world in the doldrums. Elections, the Euro-crisis, taxation, healthcare, the fiscal cliff, created negative attitudes, and all impacted consumer confidence. The boat and yacht business was no exception. By mid-2008, potential boat-buyers seemed to ban together with a common attitude of “Why buy now, when tomorrow you can buy cheaper?”
But times are changing and so is the public psyche. The industry is starting to realize strong economic data, and evidence of a domestic growth environment. We see signs of the most optimistic times for the US boating industry since 2008. Overall boat sales rose 10% in 2012 according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s recent report. Today’s activity shows every indication of continued substantial improvement in 2013 & 2014.
“We are experiencing increased activity in listings and sales, which, with the rising employment we see in the marine industry, are very encouraging signs to those of us at MYB,” said Michael Hannon, CEO of Merritt Yacht Brokers, Inc.
New brokerage sales in 2012 were up 2% in boat value and up 3% in sales volume over the previous year. Year-over-year January 2013, sales were higher than 2012. Pre-owned boat sale volumes increased by 1%, while at the same time average resale values increased at a rate greater than 20%.
Consumer borrowing in January added $16.2 billion to a total of $2.8 trillion – over 200,000 jobs were created in each month from November through January. The Dow Jones Industrial Average reached an all time high of 14,413 on March 8. Worldwide share prices exceeded their peak of mid June 2008. Surging stock prices, mending housing and labor markets as well as a booming energy sector are among the tailwinds propelling the U.S. economy. The mix of new jobs is also changing, as we create higher paying jobs.
“The climate for boat sales and boat prices are the most robust which we have viewed since 2008. We are experiencing very strong pent-up demand for pre-owned boats and yachts,” said Hannon. “We are receiving substantial inquiries for superior quality and extremely well maintained boats in the 30- to 80-foot range.”
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When the Great Recession hit, potential boat buyers headed for safe harbor – and stayed there.
Now a few are venturing out, as consumer confidence has strengthened somewhat, according to a report in the Star News, Wilmington, N.C.
“We have been seeing an uptick and slow recovery for the industry,” said Ellen Hopkins, spokeswoman for the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), a Chicago-based trade group.
“Last year was the first time we started to see some growth,” Hopkins continued. She said the group anticipates a 10% increase this year over 2011.
Figures from the marine manufacturers association show just how far sales had fallen. Total spending on power boats, trailers and accessories in North Carolina totaled $504.3 million in 2008, but by 2010 had plunged to $360.9 million, according to the industry group’s figures.
Last year saw an 11.6% rebound in the state, however, to $402.8 million, ranking North Carolina No. 7 in the nation in expenditures.
“It’s been difficult but we’re certainly coming back,” said Tricia Bennett, president of Bennett Brothers Yachts, which does restoration and repair of craft ranging all the way up to Coast Guard cutters.
“There’s been an increase in sales, which started about mid-year. The low point was about two years ago, and it’s been slowly coming back. People put projects on hold.”
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Editor’s Note: Robert W. Baird & Co. issued a client newsletter to investors following the September boat sales report from Statistical Surveys Inc. The following offers a summary of the results.
September powerboat retail flat. U.S. consumer purchases of powerboats were unchanged in September versus last year, according to Statistical Surveys. Demand for aluminum powerboats (+4%) outpaced demand for fiberglass boats (-3%), continuing the trend of better performance in the lower-priced segment of the market. Retailers are on pace to sell 156K powerboats in 2012, up 12%.
• U.S. powerboat retail flat in September. U.S. powerboat retail was roughly flat in September. Sales trends decelerated to +6% in Q3 after growing 12% in the first half of 2012. The month of September falls in the offseason for boat sales, and accounts for 6% of the annual market. U.S. powerboat retail is up 12% YTD in 2012.
• Mix still favors smaller boats. Smaller boats continue to perform better than larger boats, consistent with our expectations. We believe consumers have more equity (or less negative equity) in smaller boats, driving better trade-in activity.
This summary of a Baird research report is not intended as investment advice. To participate in Baird surveys and receive research reports, contact Craig R. Kennison, CFA, at email@example.com.
Recreational boat sales improved in August with increases among aluminum fishing and pontoon boats and smaller fiberglass outboards and declines among smaller fiberglass sterndrives, cruisers and yachts.
Soundings Trade Only reported that the industry’s growth lagged the pace it set earlier in the summer, but sales in the main powerboat segments gained 4.7% compared with August 2011 and industrywide sales rose 1.9%, according to figures compiled by Aarn Rosen, national sales manager at Statistical Surveys Inc.
“You’re past the backbone of the season and I’m sure the dealers are getting a little lean on stock, especially this year,” Rosen said. “Fortunately, you’re still seeing growth,” he added, encouraged by the trend as the typically lower-volume fourth quarter nears.
Through August, sales in the main segments, which consist of the two aluminum boat groups and five categories of fiberglass boats, are up 13.3%. Industrywide sales are 11.2% higher.
Recreational boat sales regained some momentum in July, settling into a healthy pace of growth and providing more clues about the location and durability of the industry’s recovery.
Soundings Trade Only reported that aluminum pontoon and fishing boats continued to be reliable gainers, but the best-performing category in the industry’s main powerboat segments was the high-volume 11- to 40-foot outboard fiberglass category.
Sales in that segment rose 20.5% in July to 2,783 boats from the same month a year earlier, according to figures compiled by Aarn Rosen, national sales manager at Statistical Surveys Inc.
“It shows the renewed strength of the Southern and Middle Atlantic markets,” Rosen said of the outboard category’s strong showing. “They’ve had a good year. Combined with the strength of the ski [boat] market, it shows the Southern states are joining the Northern states in a revival of boating health.”
July’s report “certainly mimics the nice trends of last month,” Rosen said. “The same categories are growing.”
The data for July were based on information from 26 early reporting states that comprise about 57% of the U.S. boat market. July sales represent 13% to 14.8% of the total annual market.
There are fewer dealers than in 2007 — the numbers floating around indicate about 35% or 40% fewer — and although people aren’t turning out in droves to buy boats, dealers appear to be realizing the fruits of the discipline imposed on them by what many have called the industry’s most brutal recession ever.
Soundings Trade Only reported that there has been an uptick in sales, although data show that the increase is modest — about 10% in a market that remains drastically reduced from prerecession levels.
“But I think what we don’t understand always is that’s 10% up over a market that’s got fewer dealers, so the dealers themselves are seeing greater growth individually because there’s fewer dealers to do that business,” says Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.
Prior to the recession, dealers relied heavily on new-boat sales, Gruhn adds.
“What the recession taught them was they have to profit from service, figure out a way to profit from parts or F&I or rentals. Basically, they needed to diversify,” he says. “Those who were able to do that came out of this much stronger, and the opportunities they have today are much greater than they would be if they hadn’t. I think that plays into the upside that dealers are feeling today.”
To read the entire article in Soundings Trade Only click here.
Looking across the boat yard at WakeSide Marine on the north side of Elkhart, Ind., owner Jeff Haradine saw blue skies and sunshine both in the view outside the window and on his balance sheet.
The pontoon and sports boat dealership on S.R. 19, near Simonton Lake, has compiled a healthy increase in sales over the past year. Banks are lending to consumers who are comfortable with their finances and have decided they can afford to go boating, The Elkhart Truth reported.
“I’m having a hard time seeing the economy as bad as people say it is,” Haradine said.
WakeSide reflects the upward trends being posted in the boating industry as a whole, including pontoon makers in Elkhart County. Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, noted 2011 was the first year the industry recorded an increase in sales since 2006. In addition, he expects retail activity to continue to grow in 2012 between 4% and 5%.
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Boat inventory is leaving showroom floors twice as fast today as it did a couple of years ago.
Sounding Trades Only reported that Bruce Van Wagoner, president of GE Capital’s commercial marine lending group, delivered that message during an address on the state of the marine industry via podcast last week with National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) president Thom Dammrich.
“That’s a very promising indicator,” Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of America, told Soundings Trade Only. “We’ve traditionally been known as a two-turn industry, but I think it’s really a little less than two turns, so for us to be up and over that, it means we’re managing our inventory better.”
Inventory more than a year old is at a historic low of 13%, compared with 47% at the recession’s peak, Van Wagoner said in the podcast.
The decision to buy a boat can still be impulsive if consumers see what they want, Dammrich pointed out. That’s why “dealers really need to make sure they have adequate inventory levels,” Van Wagoner said.
“The dealer’s risking losing a sale to a spontaneous buyer if what that person’s looking for is not in stock or if they don’t see a range of choices,” Van Wagoner said. Inventory is one-third less than it was at its peak, he said.
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Although recent economic discussions have centered on Europe’s woes and the possibility of a double-dip recession in the U.S., reports have been springing up nationwide about an increase in boat sales.
Soundings Trade Only reported that in the Midwest, where the economy has been slow for the last four years, reports have shown a strong spring for boat dealers.
On Sunday, a Toledo (Ohio) Blade story was headlined “Pent-up boat demand fueling increased sales.”
“We’re definitely seeing more sales this year — pontoons, Jet Skis, runabouts — both new and used,” Chris Rising, sales director at Devil’s Lake Water Sports in Manitou Beach, Mich., told the newspaper.
Jeff Covey, general manager of the 300-slip Great Lakes Marina in Muskegon, Mich., told Crain’s Detroit Business that after a brisk Memorial Day weekend, he anticipates the best summer he has seen in at least five years.
Steve Sloan, owner of Madisonville Marine in Tennessee, told the Knoxville News Sentinel that his sales were up 25% during the past 11 months.
Jim Meyer, owner of Main Marine & Ski in Racine, Wis., told the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that this has been the strongest start to the boating season since 2007.
Although many cautioned that the sales should be kept in perspective because they were down 50% from pre-2008 levels, the anecdotal proof supported numbers from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), which showed fiberglass boat sales increasing modestly for the first time since 2008.