Aircraft manufacturing company Boeing has been in the news in recent months, but not for good reasons. The commonly used Boeing 737 Max 8 has been a popular plane among airlines since it first arrived on the market a couple of years ago. With more than 4,000 planes ordered within the first 6 months, the model sold very quickly due to its fuel efficiencies compared to older models. The 200 seat plane also has relatively quiet cabins, and a good amount of legroom which passengers can appreciate as well.
However, a Max 8 flown by Ethiopian Airlines crashed last month, killing all 157 people in it. In the aftermath of the tragic accident, more than a dozen airlines around the world have decided to ground their Max 8 planes. Furthermore, just 6 months ago, another Max 8 model crashed off the coasts of Indonesia and operated by Lion Air. Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But Boeing shareholders may disagree. How did the crash happen? Fuel efficiency is what modern airlines love to see. One of the best ways to make a plane run more efficiently on aviation fuel is to give it larger engines. The Max 8 encompasses this idea very well. It has engine fans that are 8 wider than the previous model. And in order to accommodate the extra size of the engines, “they moved them further forward and further up” on the wing, aviation consultant Keith Mackey said according to the CBC. “And when they did that they changed the center of gravity.” This tends to lift the plane’s nose up as it coasts down for a landing. Airplane should glide with its engines off and be stable without any input from the pilot. But the Max 8 appears to do a series of stalls and recoveries until it hits the ground.
Many experienced pilots, especially in the U.S., have already reported instances of this occurring but they managed to assess what was going on and override the autopilot when necessary. However, less experienced pilots are less likely to properly react and adjust if things go wrong. Boeing tried to solve the problem by implementing a software fix when they should have fixed the physical center of gravity issue.
Commercial airplanes are by far the biggest contributor to Boeing’s profitability. Revenue from commercial planes climbed 5% to $60.72 billion in 2018. So the most pressing question for BA investors is how the crash investigations and grounding of the planes will affect Boeing’s shares and finances. Needless to say, these past events does not bode well for the short term outlook for Boeing’s stock (BA.) It’s unfortunate for Boeing because its shares actually “rose 36% in January and February thanks to steady orders for Boeing jetliners, including its popular 737.” But after the crash in March, the stock feel sharply by about 16%. Even today in mid April, BA is still down 12% from its high in February. Meanwhile the Dow Jones index, which BA is a part of, continues to rise.
Boeing is scheduled to release its first quarter 2019 earnings next week. Based on anayst’s forecasts, the consensus EPS forecast is $3.34. By comparison, the actual EPS for the same quarter last year was a bit high at $3.64. As a long term investor, it’s hard to justify buying a company like BA when its earnings are not growing year over year. Here is a chart showing its earnings for the past couple of years. It appears that EPS growth is slowing down for BA.
According to financial and risk business Refinitiv, BA stocks have a negative outlook with a score of 2 out of a possible 10. The P/E ratio currently at 21x is not exactly cheap either. And the price momentum has also been lagging that of the broader index which is another concern. Boeing does have some positive long term opportunities to add more value to shareholders. The company’s defense and security side of the business saw revenue rise 13% to $23.2 billion last year for example. And President Trump appears to be in favor of expanding the military. Maybe BA stock has bottomed out and is primed to start rising again. But the lackluster earnings and price momentum tells me that at least the short term prospects of BA does not look attractive. I would wait a couple more quarters before revisiting this stock.