When the Ethiopian Airlines crash first hit the news Mar. 10, Boeing (NYSE:BA) shareholders knew it wouldn’t be smooth sailing for Boeing stock in the days and weeks ahead.
The second crash in less than six months of a 737 Max 8, investors braced for the worst.
Remarkably, Boeing stock has performed quite well given the circumstances. It’s down 13% in the two weeks since.
I’m sure almost every portfolio manager with an interest in Boeing stock thought the downturn would be steeper. It still might, but as I write this Mar. 27, investors have taken a wait-and-see attitude.
That’s very smart.
Boeing might be up to its eyeballs in bad PR at the moment, but it can work its way back into the hearts and minds of travelers by merely doing what’s right. The rest will take care of itself.
As for Airbus (OTCMKTS:EADSY), Boeing’s primary competitor in the commercial aircraft game, I’m sure some investors were considering a long/short paired trade with Airbus long and Boeing short.
Here’s why that is a terrible idea.
The Case for Airbus
Airbus stock hit a 52-week high of $33.94 on Mar. 20, eight days after the crash of the Boeing 737 Max 8. It’s now trading at its highest level since going public inJuly 2000.
With all the hand-wringing about flying on a 737 Max 8, some investors are probably betting that Airbus will take market share from Boeing in the coming months and years as airlines like Indonesia’s Garuda cancel their orders for the embattled aircraft.
Garuda ordered 50 737 Max 8s in 2014 paying $4.9 billion. It’s canceling its order with Boeing after taking delivery of just one of the aircraft.
“Our passengers have lost confidence to fly with the Max 8,” Garuda spokesperson Ikhsan Rosan told CNN.
Like sheep, other airlines will follow suit, without actually taking the time to learn more about what caused the crash and whether there is a solution that all the stakeholders, including passengers, can live with.
People like to complain about ticket prices. Well, you watch what happens to ticket prices if the 737 Max 8 were permanently grounded. They’ll go sky high (pardon the pun) without a near-term solution in sight.
So, forget for a moment that Airbus is benefiting from Boeing’s bad news.
What’s it doing well that would get the average investor interested in owning EADSY stock?
On Mar. 25, Airbus announced it had sold 300 aircraft to Chinese airlines. The deal made official with a meeting between China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
“We are honored to support the growth of China’s civil aviation with our leading aircraft families–single-aisle and widebodies,” said Airbus commercial aircraft chief Guillaume Faury , who will become CEO next month. “Our expanding footprint in China demonstrates our lasting confidence in the Chinese market and our long-term commitment to China and our partners.”
Most of the jets sold to China are the Airbus A320 single-aisle family of aircraft that compete with Boeing’s 737 Max 8. The deal’s value wasn’t released, but estimates suggest it could have been as much as $35 billion.
How’s it doing financially?
Airbus finished fiscal 2018 with 64 billion euros in revenue, adjusted EBIT of 5.8 billion euros, and 2.9 billion euros free cash flow.
For 2019, it expects to deliver at least 880 commercial aircraft, generating a 15% increase in EBIT and a 38% increase in free cash flow.
All in all, Airbus is doing just fine with an order book of 460 billion euros as of the end of December.
The Case for Boeing
While it’s true that Boeing had $101.1 billion in revenue in 2018, 8% higher than a year earlier; $10.7 billion in core operating earnings, $13.6 billion in free cash flow, and an order backlog of almost 5,900 aircraft worth more than $412 billion, the 737 Max 8 puts all of that good news on ice until Boeing can find a way out of this mess.
CNN Business contributor Chris Isadore does a good job explaining the competition between Airbus’ A320 and Boeing’s 737 Max.
“Airlines pay about 60% of the cost of an aircraft upon delivery,” Isidore said. “The halt of 737 Max deliveries could mean a $5 billion hit in Boeing revenue in the first quarter, according to [Cowen analyst] Cai von Rumhor. But he expects almost all that lost revenue will be made up in subsequent quarters.
Throw in another $2 billion after insurance costs to compensate airlines for grounded planes and the cost of the ultimate solution for the 737 Max to fly again and Boeing’s not facing a significant financial burden.
Of course, everything the company’s doing with the FAA and pilots to rectify the problem has to go well.
That said, Cowen’s analyst believes the deal China just agreed to with Airbus was negotiated long before the first 737 Max crash last fall.This means that China’s merely trying to stick it to the U.S. as part of the ongoing trade discussions between the two countries.
Donald Trump is not going to let an American manufacturing icon like Boeing be hung out to dry. By hook or by crook, Boeing’s planes will be back in the air soon enough.
The Verdict: Boeing Stock or Airbus
The past six months have taught Boeing a life’s worth of lessons of how the little things matter.
It should have done a better job communicating with pilots and airlines why the additional training was necessary on the 737 Max 8. It didn’t and that will haunt the company for years.
However, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I believe Boeing will use this as a teaching moment making it a much better business as a result.
Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have a free cash flow margin of 13.4%, more than double Airbus. For me, Boeing stock is the clear winner.
At the time of this writing Will Ashworth did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.