What a way to start the year

I’ve been waiting to write this kind of New Year’s blog for too many years. But the time is clearly here.

Today, all eyes are on Texas. Well, more specifically on the Boating Trades Association of Metropolitan Houston where the nation’s first winter boat show (Houston Boat, Sport & Travel Show) celebrated its 60th year last weekend and the initial results make it easy to write that things are looking good.

“We had a great first weekend,” association president resident Ken Lovell says. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a really big opening Friday. Saturday and Sunday also brought in large crowds and we’re running just over 20 percent ahead of last year. Most important, dealers are reporting both interest and floor sales are very good.”

The Houston show (a 10-day event) runs through Sunday.

What else is looking good? Here’s more that should kick up your 2015 expectations:

Americans put a cool $14 billion in their pockets instead of gas pumps in 2014. But that’s just for openers. AAA predicts the euphoria will continue this year. Essentially, if fuel prices remain low, as expected, consumers will save from $50 billion to $75 billion in 2015.

For the record, the annual average gas price per gallon was $3.34 in 2014. That is compared with $3.49 in 2013, $3.60 in 2012 and $3.51 in 2011. No question the plummeting prices we saw in the last few months have boosted consumer confidence and increased disposable income.

But the real impact of these low prices is still ahead as the average price per gallon nationwide could be below $3 for the entire year. In fact, AAA predicts gas prices could decline an additional 10 cents per gallon in the next two weeks as retail prices catch up with the recent steep declines in the cost of crude oil.

Even the Department of Energy has slashed its prediction for 2015’s average price down to $2.60 per gallon. That would be the lowest full-year average since 2009. The estimate forecasts $100 billion in consumer savings this year.

Another indication of economic growth for 2015 comes from the RV industry. According to RV Business, shipments of RVs through November were up 21 percent, the best since 2005 at 26,301 units. It was the 35th consecutive month of RV sales growth, dating back to January 2012, according to the industry.

Total RV shipments through last November were up 10.2 percent to 329,999 units, the biggest annual total for the RV industry since 2007. Of that total, 288,933 units were towables and 41,066 were motor homes. While RV sales have seemingly recovered somewhat better than boats since the Great Recession, history shows we can expect to parallel that industry this year.

In other news, the US economy leads the world’s economic recovery and while the unbelievable 5 percent annual rate in the third quarter (fastest since summer 2003) won’t be sustained, growth for 2015 should ride at 3 percent or higher. Yes, I recognize some economists are predicting growth of just 2.5 percent this year. But with gas prices low, consumer confidence up and businesses investing, a 3-percent-plus growth rate seems a very supportable expectation. And history tells us when the economy is sustaining a 3-percent-or-better growth rate, the boating industry does very well.

So, as the industry heads into its all-important winter boat show season, beginning right now in Houston, everything points to a healthy round of increased show attendance and sales and 2015 will be a good year to be in the boat business.


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