Early spring weather was unkind to the U.S. marine industry again this year, but first-quarter numbers from Statistical Surveys Inc. suggest that 2014’s signature bitter chill was somewhat less of a sales deterrent than the raw and wet conditions were a year earlier.
Soundings Trade Only reported that sales in the industry’s main powerboat segments edged higher this year, rising by 212 boats, or 0.9%, to 23,684, and industrywide sales rose by 824 boats, or 2.5%, to 34,341, in 48 states that represent 99% of the nation’s boat market.
Only Maine and Hawaii, which report sales once a year, were not included in the report. A year earlier, sales fell 4.4% for the quarter in the main segments and 8% industrywide.
“I think we better weathered the storm this year,” Statistical Surveys National Marine Sales Manager Ryan Kloppe said.
Kloppe said the data bore out reports from exhibitors at boat shows that they were seeing significant numbers of interested and qualified buyers.
“I think pent-up demand helped us through the bad weather,” he said. “As we hit the summer months in this country, I think you’ll see the sales gains continue.”
In a tale of two tough seasons, sales were higher for the quarter this year in each of the three high-volume segments where the industry has shown significant growth since the Great Recession ended.
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A wide-ranging survey of nearly 300 boat dealers confirms that “2011 is not the inflection year that many hoped for going into the selling season,” according to a report from RBC Capital Markets.
“Dealers expressed disappointment with what appears to be a flat to slightly down year for new boat sales. However, Brunswick’s guidance and investor sentiment reflect a flattish year, so we view these results as roughly neutral, versus expectations,” analyst Edward Aaron wrote in his report. The survey was done in conjunction with Boating Industry magazine.
Bright spots in the survey include:
• Small-boat categories continue to show gradual recovery and dealers are reporting robust used boat sales and service business.
• There are pockets of geographic strength, including evidence of a recovery in Southern markets.
• Inventories remain healthy.
Still, Aaron wrote, “Dealers have grown more cautious in recent months, reflecting disappointing sales performance and negative macro headlines. The biggest fundamental problem, by far, is that ‘trade-up’ segments, cruisers in particular, are still very weak despite absorption of late model year used inventory.”
Aaron noted that the survey results are consistent with Brunswick’s expectations for a “flattish” year for the industry.
“Our best guess is that [second-quarter] retail sales were down slightly following the 1% decline reported in [the first quarter],” he added. “We expect data to show single-digit growth in aluminum … flat growth in outboard … and an approximately 20 percent decline in sterndrive/inboard.
“While dealers are broadly disappointed with [second-quarter] business performance, investor expectations have come down since last quarter and no longer reflect expectations for positive industry growth in 2011,” Aaron wrote.
Brunswick is set to release its quarterly results on July 28.