Boeing Co.'s cash flow swelled in the third quarter as the company's 737 Max propelled jetliner deliveries to a record.
The manufacturer handed over 25 more of its narrow-body planes than a year earlier, the result of a faster production tempo and the smooth debut of the upgraded 737 Max after an engine hiccup in May. That helped increase cash flow to $3 billion, topping analysts' estimates.
The results fulfilled Wall Street's expectations for a relatively muted quarter after Boeing's previous earnings report pushed the shares to the biggest gain in more than eight years. On Wednesday, the Chicago-based plane-maker broke out the financial performance of a newly created services business for the first time, leaving investors and analyst to puzzle over the details.
"The introduction of the new division has made the situation a bit murkier than usual," Robert Stallard, analyst with Vertical Research Partners, said in a note to clients, "but the overall result is very close to our expectations with only a small change to the full year guidance."
Boeing has emerged as a Wall Street darling this year by speeding its factories to capitalize on a seven-year order backlog, while largely avoiding the aircraft-development headaches that have plagued rival Airbus SE. Boeing's success, partially marred by a delay-prone tanker the company is building for the Air Force, has pushed shares to this year's biggest gain on the Dow Jones industrial average.
The shares fell $7.58, or 2.9 percent, to close Wednesday at $258.42. Through the close on Tuesday, the stock had risen 71 percent this year -- more than triple the average gain posted by members of the Dow.
Earnings adjusted for certain pension expenses slid to $2.72 a share from a year earlier when the company recorded a one-time tax benefit, Boeing said in a statement. The result exceeded the $2.65 average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Sales of $24.3 billion also were better than analysts predicted.
Surging 737 deliveries helped Boeing set a record of 202 jetliner shipments during the quarter. The higher shipments added about $1 billion to revenue and $150 million to earnings, said George Ferguson, aerospace analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.
Even so, sales fell for the company's main commercial aircraft division, raising concern about the plane-maker's ability to soften the blow from slower 777 production as Boeing moves to an upgraded model by decade's end.
"For the number of airplanes they delivered, I really would've expected a better pop," Ferguson said. "It's not a blockbuster quarter, it's OK."
Boeing continues to reap more cash from its 787 Dreamliners as it reduces the balance of inventory and factory costs amassed after the carbon-fiber jet debuted more than three years late in 2011. So-called deferred production costs fell $513 million during the quarter to $25.9 billion.
The pace of savings on the Dreamliner had been expected to slow after Boeing in July increased the accounting quantity used to calculate profit and loss. The company has been working on thousands of tips from employees and suppliers to refine the plane's manufacturing process, and it expects profit to climb as it mainly builds the higher-margin 787-9 and 787-10 variants.
The results provided the first look at Boeing Global Services, a new division that combines data analytics, maintenance, spare parts and other services previously offered separately by Boeing commercial and defense divisions. Sales in the quarter were $3.67 billion, up 2 percent, while the unit reported an operating margin of 14.2 percent.
Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg sees the new business as a counterweight to the commercial aircraft business, which accounts for more than half of total revenue and is prone to global macroeconomic shocks. He has set a target of growing sales of the services operation to $50 billion within the next five to 10 years.
Revenue for Boeing's core jetliner business fell 1 percent from to $14.9 billion, despite record deliveries of 202 aircraft in the quarter. Operating profit rose 15 percent to $1.48 billion. Defense sales fell 5 percent to $5.47 billion, while operating profit dipped 1 percent to $559 million.
The growing tab to build the first 18 tankers for the Air Force, months past their scheduled August due date, weighed on results for both commercial and defense. Costs for the KC-46 program climbed $329 million in the quarter as Boeing grappled with refueling problems, such as scrapes on aircraft and radio interference.
Boeing raised its outlook for 2017 as its financial performance came into sharper view. The manufacturer now expects core profit of $9.90 to $10.10 -- 10 cents more than it forecast in July. Operating cash flow is expected to be $12.5 billion, compared with a previous target of $12.25 billion.
The aerospace company also trimmed research and development spending by $200 million and lowered its tax rate 50 basis points to 28.5 percent, "so this would suggest no change to the operating forecast," Vertical Research's Stallard said.
Business on 10/26/2017
Print Headline: Max jets shipped, Boeing's 3Q flush