At the Helm: Uncertain Times

An anonymous author once wrote that, “Anyone who isn’t confused here doesn’t really understand what’s going on.”

For a number of reasons, that statement applies here as well, so let me first identify and then do my best to eliminate what confusion I can. First of all, for those of you who are confused as to why my ugly mug has shown up on this page again, let me formally announce that our recently named editor-in-chief Liz Walz is on maternity leave caring for her wonderful new baby boy, and is scheduled to return sometime in late August or early September. So that means you’ll have to deal with me for another month or so. Sorry.

The second point of confusion, I believe, is the state of the marine industry. You know, we produce this Market Data Book every year in an attempt to somehow provide clarity to the ups and downs and ins and outs of the marine market. When we first launched this concept back in 2004, things were great. The industry had been on the rise, and the numbers made logical sense from a growth perspective.

Over the last few years, of course, the numbers haven’t been so grand. By all indications, they began their decline in the spring of 2005 and, up until just recently, it seemed the rate of decline had been accelerating.

Just in the last couple quarters, however, that rate of decline has begun to decelerate — news that’s good to hear, but not exactly what we’ve all been looking forward to just yet. For now though, that slowdown has added confusion to the market. It’s almost as though just because things aren’t getting worse at the same pace, we feel like things are getting better.

To compound the confusion, most dealers who we’ve spoken to regarding the state of the market had been suggesting that things were going well through April. Now, however, many of those same dealers are suggesting that the business has dried up and gone away, as though May Day was a signal to scream “mayday!”

A recent report from Tim Conder, a Wachovia analyst, doesn’t do anything to clear up the confusion. It simply points out that, although we thought the market would be down 10 percent through the second quarter, it’s really more like 17- to 20-percent down through May.

Conder outlines a bevy of considerations that don’t provide a very optimistic outlook going forward. He suggests that the availability (and affordability) of retail credit, poor consumer confidence, uncertain stability in the European market, expiring tax cuts, forthcoming taxes and the Gulf oil spill will all add up to where the “best case scenario” for the marine industry to return to peak retail demand is now in 2014 or 2015 with around 180,000-200,000 units.

Simply stated, there’s no better time than now to ensure that you’re keeping an eye on market data that is relevant to your business. Start with this Data Book. And then keep an eye out for a forthcoming e-white paper and more new product launches from Boating Industry to help you manage your business — and “understand what’s going on” — better than ever before.

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