Boeing's earnings, outlook overshadowed by 787 unknowns

Tue Jan 29, 2013 12:54pm EST
 
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By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Just over a month ago, Boeing was flying high.

Its airplane factories were humming and speeding up production. Its defense business had just been restructured to deal with dwindling budgets in the United States and Europe. The company was confident enough to increase its dividend and resume buying back shares.

Perhaps best of all, Boeing was shortly to reclaim the title of world's biggest plane maker, snatching back an honor that its arch rival Airbus had held for a decade.

But with its new 787 Dreamliner still grounded by two battery failures on the eve of its 2012 earnings release, the Chicago-based aerospace and defense giant is in no position to rest on laurels.

Analysts and investors are likely to grill Chief Executive Jim McNerney about the costs of fixing the 787 when the company reports earnings on Wednesday.

Those costs are unknown but mounting daily as airlines are barred from using the high-tech plane. Boeing is still building five Dreamliners a month but isn't delivering them to customers. With each of them carrying a list price of $207 million, they quickly become an expensive pile of jets outside Boeing's factories in Everett, Washington and North Charleston, South Carolina.

That is why Wall Street is looking for guidance from McNerney about how painful the grounding is getting.

"For now, we know there have been costs," said Howard Rubel, an analyst at Jefferies Group. "While the cause of the event is still not clear, a host of possible items have been eliminated." Those include excessive voltage reaching the batter and obvious anomalies in the battery construction.   Continued...

 
A worker prepares the Boeing chalet ahead of the Farnborough Airshow 2012 in southern England July 8, 2012. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor