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Unit sales nearing prerecession levels

Through May, U.S. yacht brokerage market results remain well ahead of 2009. Unit sales are up 22 percent, with 12,067 boats sold, and total valuation of sales is up 39 percent, to $1.34 billion. However, the sales curve has flattened slightly in the last two months, according to reporting YachtWorld.com member brokers. In April, total valuation of sales was up only 7 percent, although unit sales were up 27 percent from the same month a year earlier. In May, unit sales were up only 7 percent, although valuation advanced by 24 percent.

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Part of the reason sales haven't been up as strongly against '09 is that by spring last year, sales had begun to recover from the lows of the U.S. economic crisis. In fact, 2010 unit sales have remained in step with 2008 for the last three months and may soon move ahead, as May 2008 was the high-water mark for sales before the downturn took hold.

Nationwide, midsize and bigger boats made the best unit-sales gains in May 2010 compared to May 2009: among 46- to 55-foot boats, sales were up 33 percent with 157 boats sold; above 55 feet, sales increased 38 percent with 84 boats sold. The total valuation increase in these two size ranges was only 25 to 30 percent, while a significantly bigger 34 percent valuation jump came in the 36- to 45-foot range.

A different sales picture emerges in our regional spotlight this month: the Great Lakes, including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York brokerages along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. An increasing rate of unit sales has generally outperformed the rest of the country, with the number of boats sold up 25 percent year-to-date, to 1,380 boats. Total valuation of $70 million for all boats sold, by contrast, is up only about $10 million, or 18 percent, quite a bit less than the national rate, mostly because of the size and nature of the boats that have traded.

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On the Great Lakes, smaller boats have driven rising unit sales, which are up close to 30 percent in the 26- to 35-foot and 36- to 45-foot ranges. Although brokers selling 46- to 55-footers in May had a good month, that size range had been flat for the first four months, and sales of boats over 55 feet have been quiet, with seven boats all year collectively valued at less than $1.6 million. That's the same number that sold in the first five months of 2009, but for $2.6 million less.

Sailboats have been relatively popular on the Great Lakes this year, with 291 boats sold; that's 40 percent more boats with masts and sails changing hands than did in the first five months of 2009. Nationally, sailboat sales are up 25 percent, about four points higher than powerboat sales. This has moved the national average of sailboat unit sales sold to nearly 20 percent of all sales; on the Great Lakes this year, the number has climbed even higher, to a little more than 21 percent.

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue.

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