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Strong February Foreshadows a ‘Much Different Story’

A strong February foreshadows a different story.
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February boat registrations increased 10.7 percent year-to-date in the main powerboat categories and 9.6 percent year-over-year, according to preliminary data from Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks registration data.

The industry overall saw a 7.9 percent increase year-to-date and a 7.4 percent rise compared with February 2019, according to SSI data. This includes Florida, which often doesn’t compile data soon enough to be included in preliminary numbers.

The data showed January’s momentum continuing, though that positive movement came to a halt when the the covid-19 pandemic took hold. “It’s just really disappointing,” SSI sales director Ryan Kloppe says. “If you look at these numbers, January and February were a great start. I’m just hoping there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Aluminum fishing boat registrations were up 17.7 percent to almost 1,900 units, compared with February 2019, and pontoons increased 11.1 percent to almost 1,400 units, compared with last year. The ski and wake segment also continued its ascent, rising 8 percent year-over-year and 8.6 percent year-to-date. Fiberglass outboard boats were up 6.9 percent to 2,755 boats, compared with last year, and 10 percent year-to-date. “We were just off to a great start in 2020,” Kloppe says. “It’s unfortunate that going into March, it’s obviously going to be a much different story.”

Analysts initially were somewhat upbeat early in the pandemic. By April, they had grown cautious, lowering price targets and estimates for the year. “While March retail held up well, April is likely to decline in the 30 to 50 percent range, and we now expect 2020 new-boat volume to slip 20 to 25 percent year-over-year, versus our flattish assumption prior,” said Michael Swartz, an analyst with SunTrust. Firms had cut price targets about in half for publicly held marine companies.

Dealers have been taking measure to preserve liquidity, such as tapping lines of credit, monetizing unlevered inventory and implementing broad cost-savings measures, Swartz states in a report. “Dealers should benefit from recently announced inventory curtailment deferrals that will provide larger dealers with millions of dollars in incremental cash over the next 60 to 90 days,” Swartz said. “We believe the current liquidity focus could not only exacerbate pressure on OEMs well beyond the point when many will be able to restart production, but could ultimately stimulate M&A activity across the highly fragmented OEM and dealer bases. Both OneWater Marine and MarineMax could be prime beneficiaries of the latter.”

SunTrust adjusted its sales expectations down between 20 and 25 percent for the year, rather than flattish as originally predicted. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue.

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