Long-term dealer confidence heads toward neutral territory

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Long-term marine dealer sentiment reached a new low in November at 57, reflecting retailer unease over tariffs, inventory levels, the increasingly high price of new boats and rising interest rates.

The three- to five-year outlook declined sharply to 59 in October — until now, the lowest rating since Baird began conducting the marine dealer survey was launched in 2014 — from September’s rating of 73, according to the Pulse Report, which Baird conducts in partnership with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Trade Only Today.

Though the survey has only been conducted during robust economic times, the feedback about short- and longterm outlooks has been fluctuating more dramatically than in past years.

Dealer sentiment improved on current conditions to 64 from 60 in October. It dropped substantially from its 70 rating a year ago; the three- to five-year outlook was 75 November 2017.

Dealers are more cautious this off-season as macro concerns surface, wrote Baird in the report.

"Interest rates keep going up,” wrote one dealer. “Prices of new boats keep going up."

“Smaller boats, under 25 feet, are too expensive, and unaffordable, to drive growth,” wrote another.

Retailers indicated that weather and government action or inaction negatively impacted demand in November. New products and access to credit positively impacted demand, while the economy, trade-in activity, and OEM promotions were neutral in November.

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Several dealers referenced political instability as a reason for their caution.

“Midterm elections indicate the slowdown and uncertainty in the economy in combination with holiday season,” wrote another. “President Trump’s chaotic way of leading the USA is hurting consumer confidence.”

“Instability is not the answer,” wrote another. “Hot air may lift a balloon but expecting it to sustain a growing economy is not feasible. The fundamentals in economics must be respected and followed. If we expect the people to prosper and buy new products outside the boundaries of this nation must continue and with stability. Watching the charts, I fear that what we hoped to be a localized downturn could full well be widespread, the next few months will be the tell.”

Another was concerned by the House flipping from Republican to Democrat control during the Midterm elections.

The dealer sentiment bears monitoring, wrote Baird. Still, most said they expected there to be retail growth in 2019, though most thought that would fall in the 1 to 3 percent range.

“In terms of stocks, we expect corporate decisions like spin-offs and acquisitions to be the focus over the winter,” wrote Baird.

Read more about survey results in the January issue of Soundings Trade Only.

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