Registrations Slide Double Digits in February

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February saw new boat registrations slow 9.5 percent in the main powerboat categories year-to-date and they slid 6.2 percent compared to February 2018 — a decline attributable at least in part to slowdowns in outboard fiberglass and aluminum fish segments.

Aluminum fish and fiberglass outboards were off in double digits for the month — 11.8 percent and 12.4 percent respectively — and pontoons declined 9.2 percent, according to preliminary data from 28 states, representing about 56.6 percent of the market.

That’s according to Statistical Surveys Inc., a Michigan firm that tracks national registration data. The numbers also showed that ski and wake boats had yet another positive month, gaining 11.6 percent over February 2018, while larger boats also saw some growth.

“The thing to remember is that January and February combined are only 5 percent of the market,” said SSI sales director Ryan Kloppe. “Obviously, it’s a sluggish start. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but I’m sure having the polar vortex in half the country didn’t really scream, ‘Let’s go buy a new boat.’”

That said, “there are some positives in there, some growth in certain segments,” said Kloppe. “We’ve seen seven years in a row of growth on growth, and we’re predicting another moderate growth year.”

Despite choppy registration data since November, B. Riley analyst Eric Wold was optimistic about the recreational marine segment, given that manufacturers have continued to experience strong demand in core segments.

In addition, promotions were “muted,” inventory levels remain healthy, and boat buyers are continuing to move higher both in average selling prices and engine-to-boat ratios, writes Wold.

February was up against tough comparisons over February 2018, added SunTrust analyst Michael Swartz.

“Interestingly, bowriders/deckboats actually grew 5 percent while cruiser and yachts over 30 feet saw an impressive 22 percent gain in registrations,” writes Swartz. “With regard to the latter this was the first month of year-over-year growth since July 2018 and just the third positive reading over the past 12 months.”

Notably, Florida was off 20 percent in February from the year prior, points out Wells Fargo analyst Timothy Conder. Though it sounds dramatic and might account for a dip in fiberglass outboard-powered boat registrations, the numbers are so low during the first two months of the year that it doesn’t actually translate to very many units, says Swartz.

“Clearly, the February registration data is disappointing in light of the relatively upbeat commentary out of boat shows thus far in 2019, as well as decent January numbers,” writes Swartz. “That said, February (as well as March) was impacted by particularly adverse weather across many markets, which is likely to push out registration activity to subsequent months. While year-to-date sales of -5 percent are well below our full year expectation [that sales will rise between 2 and 4 percent], we continue to expect moderate growth in the year ahead.” 

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue.

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