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GE survey shows optimism about consumer demand

Many in the marine industry said they expect sales to increase this year, according to survey results released today by GE Capital's Commercial Distribution Finance business.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they expect sales to increase 0 to 5 percent this year and 38 percent expect increases of 5 to 10 percent. Fifty-four percent said they are increasing their inventory levels to prepare for the upcoming selling season.

Twenty-two percent plan to wait until mid-2012 to increase inventory levels and 2 percent plan to wait until 2013 or later.

Asked what they were most optimistic about this year, 28 percent of respondents said consumer demand. They were also optimistic about relationships with industry players (19 percent) as well as business inventory levels and product availability (tied at 17 percent). Sixty-four percent of respondents identified consumer demand as their greatest business concern.

“We’re expecting slow and steady growth in 2012, similar to last year. Shipments are aligned with demand and dealer inventories are low, healthy and turning,” Commercial Distribution Finance Marine Group president Bruce Van Wagoner said in a statement. “Although the industry’s outlook is tempered by the experiences of the past several years, the marine industry is healthy today and dealers have reason to be optimistic.”

The survey also showed that access to credit does not seem to be a widespread worry. Only 4 percent were concerned about the availability or stability of wholesale financing options, and 5 percent were concerned about the availability or stability of retail financing options.

Half of respondents expect aluminum boats to be most in demand this year, followed by recreation boats (28 percent). Sales of higher-priced products, such as yachts and ski boats, are not expected to recover fully this year.

“Dealers and manufacturers are hoping that new products will stimulate replacement purchases and satisfy pent-up demand. Of all boats in the marketplace today, only about 5 percent are less than five years old,” Van Wagoner noted. “In general, manufacturers that are investing in research and development are seeing higher sales. Dealers benefit from these new products because they’re positioned to draw in more consumers.”

The survey was conducted at the recent Miami International Boat Show.

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