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Super-yacht market facing a storm

  • Story Highlights
  • The super-yacht industry is believed to be worth £350 million in the UK
  • Sales of large super-yachts are steady while the smaller yacht market is softening
  • Super-yacht owners can make money by chartering or sharing their vessels
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By Mike Steere
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The swanky and exclusive super-yacht market is bracing itself for a storm -- off the water.

Pondering his boats? Despite a softening of the super-yacht market, Roman Abramovich will likely keep his fleet.

Pondering his boats? Despite a softening of the super-yacht market, Roman Abramovich will likely keep his fleet.

The industry has bucked trends of other sectors with massive growth in recent years, but, the current international financial woes mean the uber-rich are poised to leave the plain rich behind as the market tightens.

With estimations that hundreds of billions, or even trillions, of dollars will be wiped from the assets of the world's wealthiest businessmen and women, the super-yacht industry is sure to be one market that suffers.

Although it is reserved mainly for the wealthy, dire predictions for the super-yacht world should be of concern to many, given that Superyacht UK estimates the industry is worth more than £350 million and provides employment to over 3,500 people.

So, could the credit crisis be enough to crunch the industry altogether?

Superyacht UK's international development manager Tom Chant told CNN the answer was "no", but it could have an impact at the lower end of the market.

Chant said there were some signs that demand was "softening" for smaller super-yachts -- boats in the range of 30 to 40 meters long and usually worth anywhere between £1 million and £5 million.

"There has been a softening of demand for smaller super-yachts. These people are usually immune to these sorts of things. But now, maybe it has finally filtered all the way to the top," he said.

The softening in this area of the market could also affect re-sale prices, which until now had been very stable, he said.

The lower to middle market received a further blow recently when UK super-yacht building company Devonport Yachts, announced its closure.

However, at the other end of the scale, things aren't looking so worrisome. Recent figures suggest that the top end of the super-yacht market is holding firm -- at least for now.

A Super-yachting Index compiled by The Luxury Institute with yacht broker and charter company Camper & Nicholson's International, found that new orders for yachts over 130 feet are up nearly 20 percent in 2008.

• See pictures of the world's top super-yachts

These figures continue a longer-term trend within the market.

Last year there were 254 new orders for super-yachts over 130-feet, up from 134 orders in 2005.

This increase is even more drastic when looking back a decade to 1997. Then, there were just 241 yachts longer than 80 foot being built across the globe. By 2007 this number had soared to 916 vessels.

Chant said the credit crisis wasn't an issue for the attendees of the Monaco Yacht Show in September.

"At the Monaco show we had the first news of the credit crunch really hitting then. People didn't really raise an eyebrow," he said.

And despite the weakening in the lower end of the market, Chant said the 60 meter-plus category was still "very strong", with most of the build slots at major ship-builders still full.

So, it seems likely the super wealthy owners such as Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, Microsoft's Paul Allen, and Oracle's Larry Ellison should be shielded.

There's no greater evidence of this than Roman Abramovich's latest project. Reportedly named the Eclipse, the super-yacht is expected to be about 160 meters long and become the biggest on the planet. Although no firm details have been released about the project, rumors have included a £250 million price tag, and the inclusion of two helicopter pads.

However, not all super-yacht owners possess the fortune Abramovich does, and those without such giant financial backing may be forced to leave the market.

Chant said some owners of smaller vessels may look to share ownership or charter their vessel out more often in order to maintain possession.

"Chartering is the big way to make money is a good way to get some money back," he said.

Tim Wiltshire, director and sales broker at international yacht company Burgess Yachts, said the chartering market was expected to stay reasonably strong, although it could be affected by people wanting to spend less money on holidays.

"We certainly haven't seen a crash. We are looking at people being more concerned about how they spend their money, so we may see a price realignment.

"But the demand will be there. There are plenty of people on the planet that want to go boating. Some people may not want to buy and may charter instead," he said.

So, if the financial crisis doesn't worsen too much in the coming six months, the lower end super-yacht owners may yet be able to stay in the market.

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