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Mood over Miami shows was clear and bright

I left New England in a predawn snow squall and returned six days later with heavy afternoon snow falling. In between, Miami had what should easily prove to be the strongest shows since the recession.

Buoyed by a recovering real estate market, the gains from a nearly five-year bull market in equities and an improving economy, buyers in increasing numbers are slowly working their way back. New product, combined with pent-up demand and a dearth of late-model used boats, is a dinner bell for those with an appetite for new boats.

NMMA president Thom Dammrich gave an upbeat assessment of current market conditions. Attendance at NMMA shows this winter has been up, on average, about 10 percent. A good sign. He talked of improvement in the lagging California market and noted that small boats continue to do well, adding that there appears to be a “little bit of a turn” in larger-boat sales.

Dammrich also spoke positively at a leadership conference that GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance and the NMMA presented the day before the show opened. The event was named “Riding a Wave of Optimism.” Knock wood.

“We went through some very challenging years,” says Bruce Van Wagoner, president of the GE CDF’s marine group. “But the majority of us got through it. We are a strong industry poised for growth.”

GE Capital estimates that the marine industry will grow by about 8 percent (retail) in 2014, compared with about 5.5 percent in 2013, according to Van Wagoner.

Other good signs. The Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach was the largest ever. The number of new boats along Collins Avenue was up 54 percent, although brokerage boats were down about 17 percent, more a statement about shrinking inventory levels than anything else. The show along Collins Avenue also saw a 42 percent increase in boats less than 50 feet, confirming another industry trend.

“We’re thrilled to see that smaller boats are coming back,” Show Management CEO Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III said.

Zimbalist also used the show venue to announce the inaugural Panama International Boat Show (June 20-22) at Flamenco Marina, which is at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. “We think there’s a big market that will develop in the region,” he said.

The other news that came out of Show Management was the creation of Super-yacht Miami, a new component of the Yacht & Brokerage Show that will feature yachts to 480 feet at the Island Gardens Deep Harbour Marina on Watson Island. The project is expected to be finished in 2016. A soft launch is planned for next February.

* * *

Next month, we’ll carry a complete report on Miami, but for now this is a quick takeaway from the Soundings Trade Only team.

Executive editor Chris Landry

It was the busiest, most upbeat show post-recession. You could feel the momentum building as the new boats rolled out — Riviera, Contender, Regulator, Chris-Craft, Viking, Boston Whaler and Sea Ray. In fact, Sea Ray announced a new series of boats — the L-Class — and Whaler said it will produce a 42-footer in 2014. New-engine news was quiet, but electronics has picked up substantially, and that development includes marine engines. Seems like every other word out of execs’ mouths is “integration.”

Managing editor Rich Armstrong

“New” dominated every show venue. An executive at one U.S. boatbuilder said those who sat on their hands during the recession and didn’t develop new models are paying the price. One Italian yacht executive told me that prosperous Europeans are still suffering from “affluence guilt,” which affected yacht sales here early in the recession. They are concerned about how they will be perceived purchasing a large yacht with so many people still out of work.

Senior writer Jim Flannery

I heard a strong overseas presence this year — lots of Italian, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, even Chinese spoken in the aisles. There was a whiff of ferment in the air — a lot of shop talk at the booths about keeping boats affordable and how to grow boating, how to get more young people involved, how to keep older boaters involved in boating. There was also a lot of talk about a “wave of optimism” in 2014. From listening to the economists who presented some of the seminars, I detected more of a “strong ripple” of optimism in their forecasts.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.

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