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Boatbuilders enjoy revival

YEAR ago, few people were willing to part with $225,000 for luxury yachts with cherry wood interiors, Ultrasuede cushions, and music systems. But the nation's $11.3 billion boatbuilding industry is on the mend, rebounding from a downturn triggered by a 1991 luxury tax and a sour economy.

At yachtmaker Sabre Corp. in Casco, Maine, sales this year are up 50 percent. ``We're enjoying a solid burst of enthusiasm for boating,'' says Christopher Evans, chief operating officer.

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The improving economy, growing consumer confidence, and low interest rates are helping the world's largest recreational boatbuilding industry pull out of its four-year slump. After the luxury tax was lifted last August, boatbuilders saw sales increase for the first time since 1988. But the boatbuilding boom remains fragile. Further increases in interest rates, a change in consumer confidence, or growth in unemployment could take the wind out of the industry's sails, says Janet DeFrino, an analyst with Morgan Stanley & Co. ``Demand is very strong,'' she says. ``The question is, how much of the current demand is sustainable?''

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