Economic news should boost boat shows

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A rising tide lifts all ships and the economic news surrounding the opening of the industry’s winter boat shows is the best in a decade.

The first big test comes when the Houston Boat Show opens Friday for its 10-day run. According to Ken Lovell, show president and recent recipient of the prestigious Bill Ferguson Memorial Award, “We’re expecting a real winner for our dealers. We have over 1,000 boats and RVs, hundreds of fishing, sport, travel and outdoor exhibits, new hands-on family activities and daily shows by the Xpogo Extreme Stunt Team from TV’s ‘America’s Got Talent.’ We believe it will all help draw very good crowds.”

But the best news going for Houston, and every other early January show like Denver, Cleveland, Chicago and Atlanta, is the economic climate. Enjoy these highlights:

Consumer confidence scored a new post-recession high in December. The Conference Board’s index increased to 113.7 from the upward revision of 109.4 in November (I recall it in the 50s not long ago). The boost came from expectations that short-term economic conditions will continue to improve. Also, the Expectations Index that measures consumers' outlook for the next six months also shot up from 94.4 in November to 105.5, a 13-year high.

In that same vein, confidence among U.S. homebuilders also surged in December to an 11-year high. The builder sentiment gauge rose to 70 (the expectation was 63), the highest mark since July 2005. In addition, the index of prospective buyer traffic rose from 47 to 53, also an 11-year high.

Indeed, home buying activity increased in November to the strongest sales pace since February 2007. And it’s no surprise that the six-month sales outlook jumped to 78, the best reading since June 2005, while the measure of current sales also shot up to an 11-year high of 76 from 69. This evidence of continued healing in the housing market is viewed as great news for boat sales.

More good news on spending attitudes comes from reports that holiday shoppers boosted their spending and pushed U.S. sales to the biggest increase in more than 10 years, according to research by Customer Growth Partners. Specifically, estimated holiday sales rose to $637 billion, a 4.9 percent gain over last year. Originally, Customer Growth Partners predicted a 4.1 percent increase.

The jobs picture continues to look good, too. The unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent from 4.9 percent. That beat economists’ expectations that it would remain unchanged. It also matches the lowest unemployment level since August 2007 and it’s another welcome sign the U.S. economy continues to gain momentum.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association published its New Powerboat Registrations Report, now with updated figures through October. Most segments are up year over year.

More specifically, the data shows new powerboat registrations have increased 6.4 percent year-over-year for the 12 months through October. PWC, pontoon and saltwater fishing boat segments continue to lead: PWC were up 7.1 percent; pontoons up 9.7 percent; and saltwater fishing craft were up 7.8 percent on a rolling 12-month basis.

In addition, boats 27 feet and up enjoyed an 11.4 percent increase year-over-year; outboard boats were up 6.5 percent; and inboard boats were up 12.4 percent. The only downer in the report is sterndrive boats that dropped 1.5 percent.

Finally, the best word for the near-term outlook of the U.S. economy is healthy. The Gross Domestic Product for 2017 is predicted to be between 2 and 3 percent, which is considered the ideal range. Inflation, even with increased oil prices (that many predict won’t hold as some OPEC nations will cheat), is projected to be at a comfortable 1.9 percent.

Unemployment will continue at the low rate this year and, even with the Federal Reserve expected to continue to hike interest rates in 2017, money will still be readily available to consumers at low rates.

So throttle up for success at the winter boat show near you.

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