Market report: 2015 was a strong year, with US leading the charge

If the US presidential primaries are testing your patience, you can enjoy some instant gratification from the superyacht market – the big picture of 2015 has emerged (with very little heckling). 

The number of superyachts sold in 2015 on the brokerage market was down slightly on 2014 – at 392 compared with 412 – but it still stands as a solid figure in a landscape reshaped by the Global Financial Crisis. It is, for example, more than double the 194 sold in 2009 – and with the exception of 2014 it trumps every year since. 

Cromwell Littlejohn, a sales broker at Northrop & Johnson, suggests a possible explanation for 2014's particular high – one that does not reflect badly on 2015. "There was a lot of inventory at that point, which had been sitting on the market for years," he says, because people had been buying far fewer boats in the preceding years. "Owners were just ready to dump (at very low prices) and in 2014, as the world started feeling a little bit better, buyers were coming back and taking advantage of some of those great deals."

Last year was a more even year than any recent ones – without the month-to-month highs and lows that drive up brokers’ blood pressure: in 2014 the lowest month’s tally was 18, the highest 51; in 2015, the lowest month was 26, highest 43. As Jonathan Beckett, chief executive of Burgess puts it: “We had a very, very steady year from start to finish. And that seems to be continuing.” The general impression of 2015 is a picture of stability, maintaining a comfortable position established in 2014 and further refining its regularity.

The nationality of buyers on the brokerage market, as well as across new builds and charter, reflected the political and economic headlines of 2015. "Russian business is down across sales and charter," says Beckett, "I'm sitting here in Moscow and I've been dealing with people who are very serious charterers and very serious buyers – but they're prevented by the exchange rate and the economic and political situation. It's a difficult time here at the moment. And I haven't experienced that before."

The opposite, he says, is true in the US. "The American market is very buoyant [across sales and charter]. We did more American business last year than we've probably ever done before. And it is very much helped by the exchange rate."

Roberto Giorgi, chairman of Fraser Yachts had a similar experience. “The American market has been a great success for us and I think also for other brokers,” he says. “A major part of our business revenue – multiple sales and charter – came from the American market. China, in contrast, is very keeping a low profile on the yacht side due to a lot of austerity campaigning.”

Florida-based Littlejohn had similarly positive meetings with his fellow countrymen in 2015. "On the American side, the buyers starting to talk to us again," he says. "For the several years, at boat shows, they were walking by us and – kind of hiding from us. At the end of 2014, they came out and started talking to us again and that continued through 2015. Our economy was growing, people were feeling more comfortable and our jobs market was much stronger. So I think that for high-level executives in public companies, it was okay again for them to go yachting. And there was some nice inventory on the market for them to purchase. So I think they did just that."

When it comes to US new builds, 2015 has been mixed, with Trinity going up for sale and Christensen bought by its co-owner after multiple lawsuits eroded its financial stability. “The downturn several years ago squeezed everybody,” says Daryl Wakefield, president of Westport. “And also a lot of yachts were put on the market, so you were up against yourself – used boats (that you had built). You might have been working for years to put together a deal and all of a sudden the clients bought a used boat, because it was such great value.”

But for Westport itself, 2015 was a good year. "In past years customers were ducking for cover because it looked bad if, for example, they'd made cutbacks," he says. “Then last year they felt they had stayed on the sidelines long enough. They were ready to step in the game – they were tired of waiting. They wanted to do something."

Westport is bolstered by a solid quota of repeat (mostly American) clients. For them, the next challenge is not so much coaxing owners across the line as keeping up with their clients’ ambitions. “We're starting to lose market share a bit because a number of customers – many of them multiple buyers – are outgrowing us. We have great relationships and in several cases, they're begging us to build a boat for them. It's just a matter of taking on pretty significant infrastructure upgrading. And we'll do it.”

Across the pond in Italy, Benetti has also seen clients thinking bit. “We signed six yachts of 50 metres or larger,” says Fabio Ermetto, chief commercial officer of Benetti, “So we are very happy about it, especially with two or three yachts of more than 60 metres. And we delivered 19 yachts, seven of them 50 metres or larger.” Ermetto also notes that success seems to breed success in the superyacht building game, where it is so important that a client has faith that a yard is stable enough to finish their boat. “Last year the people who visited us could really see the new sheds and the 90m almost completed. So people approached us with even more confidence than before.”

At Amels it was a bumper year too, and size remained a major story: “We have seen yachts ordered between 55 and 74 metres,” says Rob Luijendijk, managing director of Amels, “[as well as] the 69 metre Fast Yacht Support Vessel.”

Size was also impressive in terms of brokerage, with 10 sales in the 70 metre-plus bracket, the same figure as 2014 and significantly more of these monsters than were sold in preceding years. The 40 to 50 metre bracket was also strong, with the highest tally since before the Global Financial Crisis. 

What does all this positivity mean for buyers and charterers in 2016? The message seems to that commitment-phobes will lose out. “In charter, 2015 was the first year when we went back to the old market where in peak season all the good boats were booked,” says Beckett. “Going through the last five-year period there were always boats available in July and August or Christmas to New Year. Last year, people who booked late couldn't find something good.”

Giorgi concurs: “There were certain moments during the summer that we had a shortage of available yachts for charter and the Europeans who are normally booking at the last moment had difficulty finding a yacht,” he says.

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