Strong sales at New England show could be a harbinger

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The Progressive New England Boat Show ran strong right out of the gate and at least one expert sees low oil prices leading to a boom in consumer spending this spring.

A 48 percent attendance increase at any boat show would be a shocker, unless we’re talking about the New England show that closed Sunday. To put that whopping increase in proper perspective, however, it must be noted that last year the show was buried in 5 feet of snow and sub-zero temperatures — not typical of Boston in the winter.

What’s really the good news in that more than 51,000 people poured into the New England show, pushing attendance up a handsome 9.5 percent over the comparable year of 2014. It was the best-attended show since 2008.It’s also one of the largest attendance increases in the industry’s winter show circuit and it clearly boosted boat sales for exhibitors.

And speaking of success, a well-deserved shout out to Joe O’Neal who has managed the New England show for three decades and who is held in the highest regard by his exhibitors and fellow show managers. O’Neal is retiring this year.

But perhaps the success in New England also reflects the optimistic outlook for consumer spending still ahead, due in significant part to low oil prices. Jack Ablin, CIO at Harris Bank, recently asked the question: Can low oil prices be bad for the economy? His answer is a resounding no.

While investors and the stock market might be stressing over the direction of oil prices, we Americans are enjoying a windfall. Ablin is convinced lower oil prices are about to unleash more consumer spending. It appears that, until now, consumers have been saving their savings on gasoline.

But soon they will start spending those savings and Ablin argues that is exactly what our consumption-based economy needs. “Don’t be surprised if consumer spending data ushers in sunshine this spring,” he says. Now that would be just in time for our peak boat selling season.

The reality is that for all of the focus on the collapse of the oil and gas sector, the energy patch employs fewer than one out of 100 people. While it might negatively impact some areas, it leaves the overwhelming majority of Americans actively cheering for lower prices every time they pull up to the gas station or gas dock.

Indeed, at the pump, those buying regular could be saving upwards of $100 per month, what with gas prices averaging $1.71 per gallon or as low as $1.50 per gallon in many states.

Ablin also points out that despite all the rhetoric on the campaign trail these days, the fact remains that wages are up 2.5 percent in the last year, gas prices are in the basement and the vehicles we’re driving go much farther before requiring a fill-up.

Add in that American consumer confidence is on the rise with most of the improvement attributed to the lower pump prices. It all sets up a good scenario for spring boat sales.

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