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June 3 (Bloomberg) -- The number of Australians who own superyachts more than tripled in the past five years as the nation’s biggest mining boom in a century drove up its currency to a record, enhancing a drop in prices caused by a supply glut.
Some 110 Australians possess vessels exceeding 98 feet (30 meters) in length, up from about 30 acquirers five years ago as a 42 percent gain in the currency and slower demand in the U.S. slashed the prices they pay by 70 percent, according to Australian Superyachts, a group of companies that brokers, staffs and services the boats.
“The stars have aligned and created a window of opportunity for Australian buyers,” said Richard Morris, chief executive officer of Sydney-based Australian Superyachts. “They’re like kids in a candy shop.”
China and India’s booming demand for Australian resources is spurring the nation toward its 20th year of expansion. The combined wealth of the nation’s 200 richest people expanded 23 percent over the past year as surging iron ore prices helped make Gina Rinehart the first woman to be ranked as the nation’s richest person and the first Australian with a fortune exceeding A$10 billion ($10.6 billion), according to BRW magazine.
The Australian dollar climbed to $1.1012 on May 2, the highest level since exchange controls were scrapped in 1983, aided by the Reserve Bank of Australia’s seven interest-rate increases since October 2009. The currency was at $1.0615 as of 3:39 p.m. in Sydney yesterday.
Morris negotiated this year for an Australian who bought a 150-foot boat in Florida for A$6 million, with the price dropping from the initial A$7.4 million sought partly because the Australian currency rose from 98 U.S. cents to $1.10 during purchase discussions.
“The seller wasn’t a distressed seller, he wanted the money,” Morris said. “U.S. boatyards are full at the moment, some of which are vessels that have been repossessed, and Australia’s booming economy has produced buyers looking for a bargain.”
The value of minerals and energy projects being developed in Australia, the world’s largest shipper of coal and iron ore, rose 31 percent to a record as a mining boom drives the A$1.3 trillion economy.
Retail sales rose in April by the most in 17 months as the economy recovers from its worst quarterly contraction in two decades. The sales report, released yesterday, supports the central bank’s forecast for the economy to accelerate after floods caused it to shrink 1.2 percent in the first quarter.
“The bulk of these new buyers are from the mining industry,” Morris said, without divulging details of the buyers. “They are very secretive and these yachts are bought and sold in a discrete manner.”
The government of Western Australian state, which accounts for 97 percent of the nation’s iron ore production, in November called for expressions of interest to develop Rous Head Harbor marina at Perth’s Fremantle port to cope with larger yachts.
Both Rinehart and Andrew Forrest, founder of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. and Australia’s third-richest individual, hail from Western Australia and depend on iron ore for their wealth. Australia has 35 billionaires, up from 30, BRW said last month when publishing its annual list of the country’s 200 richest.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said the high currency is a burden on some parts of the economy, including manufacturers and exporters.
There are currently 4,385 superyachts in the world, boasting a full-time professional crew, according to statistics compiled by Lorenzo Pollicardo, Yachting Division Manager of Italian-based consultancy The Docks.
Current owners of the yachts include Crown Ltd. Chairman James Packer and Premier Investments Ltd.’s Solomon Lew and Seven Group Holdings Ltd’s Kerry Stokes, according to Morris.
“The buyers used to come from North America and Europe and now Asia is taking over,” Morris said. “There is a huge market in China as their household wealth grows.”
--With assistance from Jason Scott in Perth. Editors: Garfield Reynolds, Iain Wilson
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