Is Boeing (BA) a Recovery Play? Evaluating Upside Potential and Risks

The Boeing Company (BA), a stalwart in aircraft manufacturing and services, has faced a cascade of challenges so far this year. Just as the dust was settling on its mid-air blowout incident in January, another report emerged of a plane having mechanical failures, though this one is somewhat different from the reports we’ve already heard.

This time, it's a Delta flight from New York to Los Angeles, reporting a problem with the emergency slide on the right wing and a strange sound. While this isn't good news for Boeing, given that the plane is quite old (flying since 1990), it's not expected to cause too much trouble either.

Now, let’s evaluate the upside potential and risks associated with investing in BA, considering factors like financials, growth prospects, valuation, and industry dynamics.

A Tumultuous Start to 2024

Boeing and its aircraft manufacturer have faced significant media attention since the start of 2024, with a series of incidents prompting investigations. In January, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 had to make an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon, because a part of the plane's fuselage blew out.

Although there were no casualties, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation revealed that the door was not properly secured due to missing bolts. As a result, it led to a grounding of its 737-9 MAX fleet, increased scrutiny of the plane maker’s 737 production and safety processes, and decreased overall plane production.

Later in January, an ANA (All Nippon Airways) Boeing 737-800 had to return to Japan after a crack was found on its cockpit window during flight.

On February 21, a United Airlines Boeing 757-200 made an emergency landing in Denver due to wing damage. Furthermore, in March, a United Airlines Boeing 777-200 had to land in Los Angeles after a tire fell off following take-off, damaging vehicles below.

Other incidents include a brief rudder control failure on a Boeing 737 Max in New Jersey, a United Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 going off the taxiway in Houston, and a Boeing 737 in Medford, Oregon, being found missing a panel.

Further, on March 18, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 had a cracked windshield upon landing in Portland.

Can Boeing Be Trusted Again?

Such incidents have dealt a significant blow to the company, raising concerns about BA’s approach of prioritizing profits over safety. Particularly, the Alaska Airlines incident led to tighter regulatory scrutiny, financial implications, and demands for compensation, potentially hampering Boeing's growth trajectory.

However, the company has taken steps to improve quality, including expanding inspections, changing how work is performed, increasing training, and soliciting more feedback from employees.

“We are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to make certain our regulators, customers, employees and the flying public are 100 percent confident in Boeing,” Dave Calhoun, Boeing’s chief executive officer, said in a letter to employees last week.

Moreover, the company is also in talks to acquire Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, Inc. (SPR), a troubled supplier that builds the body of the Max jet, which had been a part of Boeing until it was spun out two decades ago. This potential acquisition reflects Boeing's commitment to streamlining its supply chain, strengthening production capabilities, and exerting greater control over supplier policies and practices.

Disappointing Financial Performance

Despite a rocky start this year, Boeing reported a slightly better-than-feared quarter but continued to burn cash (almost $4 billion) as it tried to stabilize production. With fewer planes exiting factories in the last three months, Boeing's revenue suffered a significant blow in the first quarter.

For the quarter that ended March 31, 2023, the company posted a 7.5% year-over-year decline in its total revenues to $16.57 billion. Its non-GAAP core operating loss came in at $388 million and $1.13 per share, respectively. Also, BA’s net loss for the quarter amounted to $355 million, which was not as steep as analysts had expected, and it was smaller than the $425 million loss in the prior year’s period.

Deliveries of Boeing's commercial planes declined by 36% year-on-year in the first three months of 2024. The airline company also reported an operating cash outflow of $3.36 billion, compared with $318 million cash outflow in the last year’s period. Also, it posted a negative free cash flow of $3.92 billion, compared with a loss of $787 million a year ago. Further, the total company backlog grew to $529 billion, including over 5,600 commercial airplanes.

CEO Dave Calhoun, emphasizing the ‘tough moment,’ said, “Lower deliveries can be difficult for our customers and for our financials. But safety and quality must and will come above all else.”

Mixed Analyst Expectations

As Boeing continues to face substantial expenses in resolving identified issues, compensating affected parties, and handling potential legal matters, CFO Brian West believes the company will have a “sizable use of cash” in the second quarter.

Analysts expect BA’s revenue for the fiscal year (ending December 2024) to increase 4.2% year-over-year to $81.09 billion. However, the company is expected to report a loss per share of $0.55. For the ongoing quarter ending June 2024, its revenue is estimated to decline 3.6% year-over-year to $19.05 billion.

However, Street expects the company’s revenue for the next quarter (ending September 30, 2024) to increase by 18.5% year-over-year to $21.46 billion, while its earnings per share is expected to be at $0.41.

During this challenging period, Calhoun stated, “We are utilizing this period, challenging as it may be, to intentionally reduce the pace of operations, strengthen the supply chain, enhance our factory operations, and position Boeing to consistently deliver the reliability and quality our customers expect in the long run.”

Bottom Line

BA’s ongoing challenges, including numerous safety issues, production halts, and delayed deliveries, have put the firm in a complex situation where forecasting future demand has become increasingly precarious. These headwinds are significantly impacting its airline customer base, leading to declining profitability, cash flow problems, and inventory issues that might linger for a while.

Despite these short-term hurdles, the company is committed to strengthening its market position, achieving long-term growth outlooks, and improving predictability for both customers and investors. But this process is going to take some time and concerted effort.

Ultimately, the market's confidence in Boeing depends on its ability to bounce back from its current challenges. However, the question remains: can the recovery be achieved soon?

Regarding price performance, the stock has plunged nearly 15% over the past three months and more than 33% year-to-date.

Moreover, the stock seems pretty pricey at the moment. In terms of forward P/E, BA is currently trading at 142.59x, which is substantially higher than the industry average of 23.99x. The stock’s forward EV/Sales of 1.81x is 2.9% higher than the industry average of 1.76x. Also, its forward EV/EBITDA of 33.92x compares to the industry average of 11.30x.

Besides, BA’s trailing-12-month gross profit and levered FCF margins of 11.48% and 4.01% are 62.7% and 38.9% lower than the industry averages of 30.80% and 6.56%, respectively. Also, its net income margin of negative 2.81% compares to the industry average of 5.86%.

Recently, Argus Research downgraded their outlook for BA stock from Buy to Hold, estimating a target price of $243.01, indicating a 40.1% upside. In addition, Northcoast Research downgraded the stock from Neutral to Sell.

Given these factors, we believe waiting for a better entry point in this stock could be wise now.

Buying the Dip or Selling the Rally: Timing Your Moves in Boeing’s Stock

The Boeing Company (BA), renowned for its innovation and dominance in the aerospace sector, has recently found itself in turbulent skies. In January 2024, the company faced severe criticism following an unfortunate incident involving a commercial Boeing 737 Max 9. During ascent, the door panel dislodged, resulting in a substantial opening on the side of the aircraft.

This unsettling event marked the start of a challenging year for BA in 2024 and brought renewed attention to the Boeing 737 Max planes, which have already been involved in two past crashes in 2018 and 2019, killing almost 346 people.

In addition, it also highlighted broader concerns about the quality control of BA’s planes, including how they are made, parts storage, and the rush to meet production deadlines.

According to an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), BA failed 33 out of 89 product audits related to its plane manufacturing, which is highly concerning. As a prominent commercial aircraft manufacturer, Boeing plays a crucial role in the aviation industry; however, its recent errors have raised significant concerns about the overall integrity of the industry.

As a result of this January mishap, which was followed by heightened scrutiny from the FAA, BA is experiencing a major production slowdown. The FAA has set a production limit of 38 jets per month for BA, but the actual output has often fallen well below this threshold, dipping to single digits by late March.

Conversely, Airbus SE (EADSF), BA’s major industry rival, maintains a comparably strong production pace for its A320neo-family jets, with an average of 46 flights per month in the first quarter of 2024. According to BA’s Chief Financial Officer, Brian West, the company is implementing various measures to tackle quality issues and boost confidence among stakeholders.

Despite BA's attempts to restore confidence in the company's prospects among its stakeholders, the recent news of BA’s CEO David Calhoun stepping down underscores the immense pressure BA is currently facing.

Furthermore, BA’s chairman, Larry Kellner, has opted not to stand for re-election as a board director. Instead, the board has chosen former Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf to take his place.

Meanwhile, Stan Deal, the CEO of BA Commercial Airplanes, is retiring, and Stephanie Pope, who has been serving as BA’s chief operating officer since January, will step into his role.

In a letter addressed to BA employees, Calhoun characterized the January Alaska Airlines incident as a critical juncture for BA. Highlighting his intentions to step down, Calhoun emphasized the global scrutiny the company is facing. The letter further assured stakeholders of the company's commitment to resolving the issues and guiding it toward recovery and stability.

Calhoun’s departure amid intense criticism from major airline CEOs further highlights the company's difficulties. For instance, some of BA’s key customers, including Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, Europe's biggest airline, and Scott Kirby, the CEO of United Airlines, have expressed disappointment with BA’s quality issues and delivery delays.

CEO Scott Kirby of United Airlines referred to the Alaska Airlines incident as a tipping point in their plans to acquire the BA’s Max 10 this year as originally intended. Consequently, they are now exploring the option of purchasing aircraft from BA’s competitor, Airbus, to replace the Max 10s they had ordered.

Bottom Line

With its shares down roughly 23% over the past three months, there is no denying that BA is currently going through its worst-ever crisis. The company's future is uncertain as the company’s CEO steps down, and the successor remains undecided.

Meanwhile, BA's recent quarterly results exceeded analyst expectations. The airline company reported fourth-quarter revenue of $22.02 billion, surpassing the $19.98 billion revenue in the prior year quarter and the consensus estimate of $21.08 billion.

During the same quarter, the company reported a non-GAAP core loss per share of $0.47, an improvement from the loss per share of $1.75 in the prior-year quarter and lower than analysts' estimate of $0.79. However, its free cash flow dropped 5.8% from the year-ago value, reaching $2.95 billion.

The company has reaffirmed its financial targets for 2025 and 2026, which include reaching approximately $10 billion in free cash flow and achieving $100 billion in revenue by as early as next year.

Despite exceeding analyst expectations for the fourth quarter, BA’s forthcoming quarterly results could hinder the company’s financial goals due to production delays and major airline customers choosing to procure aircraft from Airbus.

Furthermore, the company’s decision to withhold 2024 guidance during the recent earnings highlights the uncertainty surrounding its commercial airplane deliveries for this year. This uncertainty, ongoing production challenges, leadership shakeup, and customer preference shifts cast a shadow over BA’s prospects.

To that end, investing in BA’s shares might not be wise now. Investors could monitor the company for further developments and wait for clarity on its future direction.

Boeing's Turbulent Week: What Lies Ahead for BA Investors?

Recently, a United Airlines Holdings, Inc. (UAL) aircraft veered off the taxiway into a grassy area upon landing at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The incident, involving United Flight 2477 carrying 160 passengers and six crew members, marks the third notable occurrence last week involving the carrier’s The Boeing Company (BA) planes.

No injuries were reported as passengers disembarked using mobile stairs and were bused to the terminal. The incident last Friday involved a 737 Max, in service for less than a year, built four years ago. This follows a tire loss from a United Boeing 777-200 mid-air last Thursday and an engine failure on a United flight from Houston to Fort Myers, Florida.

The aircraft on the Houston-to-Florida route made an emergency landing when one engine started emitting flames ten minutes post-takeoff. UAL attributed the incident to the engine ingesting plastic bubble wrap left on the airfield before departure.

BA’s series of unfortunate events commenced at the start of the year when a portion of an Alaska Airlines 737 Max detached from the aircraft soon after takeoff. A preliminary federal investigation suggested BA may have neglected to install bolts in the door plug, intended to secure the component and prevent detachment.

Consequently, the incident prompted a temporary nationwide grounding of specific 737 Max jets, leading to congressional hearings, production and delivery delays, and numerous federal investigations, including a criminal probe. The turmoil contributed to a 25% decline in the company's stock value this year, causing a market valuation drop exceeding $40 billion.

Continued Flight Control and Safety-Related Issues

The string of setbacks for BA does not end here. In February, United Airlines 737 Max pilots reported flight control jamming upon landing in Newark, which has been under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also raised concerns about de-icing equipment on 737 Max and 787 Dreamliner models, potentially leading to engine thrust loss. Despite this, the FAA permit continued flying of the planes, with BA asserting no immediate safety threat.

Adding to BA’s woes, last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed the company’s failure to furnish records documenting the steps taken on the assembly line for door plug replacement on the Alaska Airlines jet. Boeing’s explanation includes that these records simply do not exist.

The FAA disclosed that BA’s safety and quality concerns transcend mere paperwork deficiencies. FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker stated that upon reviewing BA’s production procedures and standards, the regulator identified significant weaknesses in critical aspects of the company’s manufacturing and assembly processes.

“It wasn’t just paperwork issues,” Whitaker said. “Sometimes, it’s the order the work is done. Sometimes it’s tool management. It sounds kind of pedestrian, but it’s really important in a factory that you have a way of tracking your tools effectively so that you have the right tool and that you know you haven’t left it behind.”

Legal Battle and Whistleblower Retaliation

According to the Charleston County Coroner's Office, a former longtime BA employee, who had previously voiced significant concerns regarding the company’s production standards, was discovered deceased in Charleston, South Carolina, over the weekend.

John Barnett, aged 62, passed away on March 9, citing a self-inflicted gunshot wound as the cause. Barnett had a tenure of over three decades with BA before retiring in 2017.

As a quality control engineer at the company, John Barnett expressed concerns about safety compromises in the production of 787 Dreamliner jets. In a 2019 interview with the BBC, he alleged that BA rushed production, resulting in emergency oxygen systems for Dreamliners with a failure rate of 25%.

Barnett indicated that a quarter of 787 Dreamliners were vulnerable to rapid oxygen loss during sudden cabin decompression, posing suffocation risks to passengers. He mentioned experiencing these issues upon joining BA’s North Charleston plant in 2010 and allegedly voiced his concerns to managers but observed no subsequent actions taken.

A statement provided to CNN by his lawyers says, “John was in the midst of a deposition in his whistleblower retaliation case, which finally was nearing the end. He was in very good spirits and really looking forward to putting this phase of his life behind him and moving on. We didn’t see any indication he would take his own life. No one can believe it. We are all devasted [sic]. We need more information about what happened to John.”

Implications for Airlines

BA’s rocky start in 2024 reverberates through its customer base, prompting airlines to reconsider flight schedules and hiring initiatives amid uncertainty surrounding the company’s delivery constraints.

Despite strong demand, Helane Becker, TD Cowen Senior Research Analyst, notes that BA’s manufacturing and delivery disruptions “limit growth” for airlines, compelling them to curtail workforce expansion, thereby impeding service offerings.

Companies will be forced to limit workforce expansion, which will hamper service offerings. “Without a robust airline industry, it’s very hard to have a robust economy,” Becker has warned.

Damage Control

BA is emphasizing quality management by introducing weekly compliance checks and additional equipment audits for all 737 work areas. These measures, outlined in a recent memo to employees, have commenced March 1 onward. Mechanics will also dedicate time during each shift to conduct compliance and foreign object debris sweeps.

“Our teams are working to simplify and streamline our processes and address the panel’s recommendations,” the memo said, noting that employees have to focus on looking out for safety hazards and follow manufacturing processes precisely. “We will not hesitate in stopping a production line or keeping an airplane in position.”

BA is further reinforcing quality standards by auditing all toolboxes and removing non-compliant tools. Stan Deal, Executive Vice President of BA, emphasized the importance of strict adherence to manufacturing procedures and processes designed to guarantee conformity to specifications and regulatory requirements.

Stan Deal also noted that BA, in collaboration with Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, Inc. (SPR), has instituted additional inspection points at their facility in Wichita. Consequently, beginning March 1, teams at the facility are ensuring first-pass quality before any fuselages are shipped to Renton.

Bleak Outlook

In the short term, BA’s outlook appears grim as a result of recent incidents and production challenges, likely leading to a decline in investor confidence and stock performance. While damage control initiatives may eventually improve the company's trajectory, uncertainties persist, making it prudent for investors to exercise caution at present.

The long-term prospects are contingent upon BA’s ability to restore trust among airlines, regulators, and passengers. However, each new incident and negative headline further complicates this task, potentially eroding the company's reputation and hindering future growth opportunities. Restoring confidence will be crucial for BA’s sustained success in the aviation industry.

Analysts expect BA’s revenue to rise by 10.8% year-over-year to $19.85 billion in the first quarter ending March 2024. However, the company is expected to report a loss per share of $0.14 for the ongoing quarter. Moreover, BA’s stock is exhibiting significant volatility, with a 60-month beta of 1.52. Over the past three months, BA shares have plummeted by more than 25%.

The company's profitability has also suffered a considerable blow, with its trailing-12-month gross profit margin at 11.89%, representing a 61.2% decline compared to the industry average of 30.62%. Similarly, its trailing-12-month EBITDA margin and trailing-12-month Capex/Sales stand at 4.05% and 1.96%, lower than the industry averages of 13.75% and 3.04%, respectively.

Bottom Line

The company’s turbulent beginning in 2024 extends beyond its stock performance, compounded by an already tarnished reputation. Rebuilding trust among airlines, regulators, and passengers will be increasingly challenging with each subsequent mishap and negative publicity.

These recent incidents, regulatory scrutiny, and ongoing legal battles have led to a decline in investor confidence and stock performance. While damage control efforts are underway, uncertainties persist. Therefore, it would be wise to avoid investing in BA shares now.

Is Singapore Airlines (SINGY) an Attractive Buy Despite Denying Air India Stake Increase?

On June 15, news broke that Singapore Airlines Limited (SINGY) had expressed interest in increasing its 25.1% stake in the Tata Group-operated Air India, secured as part of its merger with Vistara that was announced in November 2022 and due to be completed by March 2024. The report claimed that SINGY could gradually increase its stake to 40% to have more skin in the game.

However, the report was soon followed by a denial by SINGY, with its spokesperson confirming that there is no change in SIA’s position from the November 2022 announcement.

However, Goh Choon Phong, the CEO of SINGY, reaffirmed his support by stating, “With this merger, we have an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Tata and participate directly in an exciting new growth phase in India’s aviation market.”

The salt-to-steel conglomerate Tata Group operates three airlines in India: Air India (with Air India Express as its low-cost subsidiary), Air Asia India, and Vistara (a 51:49 joint venture between Tata Sons and SINGY).

The merger of Vistara and Air India into a single entity (Air India), with SIA investing INR 20.59 billion, is under review by the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

With SIA’s expertise in operating a successful airline, particularly when dealing with powerful players such as IndiGo as well as international competition like Emirates and Qatar Airways, it is understandable why Air India might have reportedly been keen on a potential stake increase.
Pinch of Salt

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The obviousness of this observation made by Herb Stein was what made it famous.
In our June 13 article, we discussed how, despite air carriers turning to bigger airplanes, even on shorter routes and jumbo-jets, such as the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380, being brought back to help ease airport congestion and work around pilot shortages, Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL) wishful extrapolation of the narrative of “revenge travel” could rapidly unravel.

While there remain valid reasons to doubt whether business travel is ever going back to normal and that the pent-up demand might not be enough to sustain the momentum, the battle for Indian skies comes with its own set of challenges.

When the facts, such as 90% of wage earners in India earn INR 25000 or below, the seemingly unending exodus of millionaires from India, and Indigo ordered 500 Airbus aircraft soon after Air India’s combined order of 470 aircraft from both Boeing and Airbus, are taken into consideration, it only takes willful suspension of disbelief to equate low penetration with growth potential.

Hence the possibility that civil aviation in India could be a bubble waiting to burst or at least a profitability sink for air carriers can only be ignored by investors, including SINGY, at their own peril.

Safer Alternative

With The Boeing Company (BA)still on the back foot and playing catch up to its European rival, Airbus SE (EADSY), the latter, with ROCE and ROTC better than the industry average, could be a common denominator that could give investors (relatively) safe exposure to the heated battle for a greater share of the pie of the Indian sky.