Boat sales swift, but a slowdown may be coming

CHICAGO – A combination of high fuel costs and rising interest rates may be the brake that begins to slow boat sales within the next year, according to a Reuters’ story today in the Los Angeles Times.

Analysts predict that within the next year or so, boat makers could see sales soften, particularly sales of smaller models typically purchased by middle-income consumers who are financing the purchase, Reuters said.

“Historically, a cyclical decline in industry boat sales is preceded by a period of increases in gas prices and/or increased interest rates by about one to two years,” Bryan Knoepp, an FTN Midwest Research analyst, told the news agency.

More people are asking dealers questions about high fuel prices, said Steve Croft, spokesman for the Boat Owners Assn. of the United States (Boat/U.S.), according to the newspaper.

“I don’t think buyers are walking out on the dealer when people say, ‘Gas may be $2.60 or $2.70 a gallon.’ I don’t think it’s a deal breaker, not yet,” Croft told Reuters.

There are few reports of product shortages as consumer demand rises, but dealers are keeping inventories lean, a sign they could be preparing for slowing sales, according to the news agency.

Many still have faith in recovery

“Marine industry leaders are somewhat less optimistic about the environment for boat sales during the next 12 months,” Jim Petru, market statistics director for the National Marine Manufacturers Assn., said in a statement, quoted in the story. “But most believe the industry will continue its economic recovery in spite of higher gasoline prices and the fluctuating stock market.”

A reader’s poll recently conducted on Boating Industry magazine’s Web site also found that a majority (61 percent) of respondents believed the industry’s economic recovery will continue.

“I don’t think you’re going to hear many companies that are engaged in a boating-related industry talking about the pending decline in demand,” Knoepp told Reuters. “Because you’re still looking at a year or two of good results.”

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