Power boats can be top investments

FOR people searching for the elusive item that can be enjoyed and still make them money, one investment option could well be luxury motor boats.

Not the run-of-the-mill pleasure boats, mind you, whose prices range from $250,000 to $2 million.

According to international yacht broker Barbara Karran, the super-luxury class of boat is currently going for knock-down prices - prices which could improve substantially once the recession-hit West recovers.

Based in Sai Kung, Ms Karran runs Barbara Karran & Co, one of only a handful of yacht and pleasure boat brokers in Hong Kong. Most of her boats - her ''bread and butter'' - are in the category of $1 million.

But also on her books are thoroughbreds of the sea, boats which range in size up to 120 feet and which can fetch anything up to US$10 million (HK$77 million).

Features of a typical specimen, of course, include all mod cons: full air-conditioning, water-makers, state of the art navigation, on-board fax, helicopter pad and swimming pool.

She said the recession was responsible for many such yachts languishing in locations throughout Asia and off the coasts of France and Japan.

''In Italy and the south of France, boats are at bargain-basement prices,'' she said.

''That's not normal: it's because of the recession everywhere, because it can take two years to build luxury boats in places like Italy and you pay a hefty deposit.

''What happens is that, by the time the boat is to be delivered, the company has gone bust and the finance companies have to offer the boat at very much less than the market value.'' Ms Karran said she had several boats on her books, the products of such circumstances.

''I have one which is brand new, lying in its cradle. It's two years old and it's never been used.'' This specimen is an Italian boat, called a Riva, which was built in 1991. Unused, it is priced at US$950,000 - marked down from its original price of US$1.5 million.

Another exotic boat - a luxurious charter schooner - beckons the investor searching for value for money. This craft is 107 feet long and waiting to be sailed away in the French Antilles. The price: GBP1.5 million (HK$17.2 million), or GBP4 million together with a business which has a handy tax loss on its books.

Ms Karran said the super-luxury boats that were favoured in Hong Kong tended to be built by the Italian yards - boats with names like Riva, Baglietto, San Lorenzo and Azimut. The Italian boats were preferred to other makes from places like Holland and even the US because of their style and luxury finish.

But the motivation is not always financial difficulty.

''I have two boats priced at US$1.2 million, one is in Hong Kong the other in Manila. It is only a few months old.

''It's a dream. An Englishman had it built in Taiwan and he set off last year but got only as far as the Philippines when he decided he didn't like the lifestyle.'' But while prices for these vessels could, eventually, see a significant upturn, Ms Karran does not regard them as an investment in the short, medium or even long term.

''People only buy them as a real luxury. Once you have to ask how much it costs, you should not be buying,'' said Ms Karren.

''You have to have a crew and maintain the vessel and, once it's in the water, it's always deteriorating. You have to look after it constantly. It's not like a painting or a Ferrari.''