Boeing Earnings Look Good, but Don’t Be Fooled

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The Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) reported first-quarter 2014 results before markets opened Wednesday. The aerospace company posted adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.76 on revenues of $20.47 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $1.73 on revenues of $18.89 billion. First-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $1.56 and $20.19 billion in revenues.

In our preview of Boeing’s earnings, we noted that the consensus estimate for EPS had dropped from $1.78 just three months ago to $1.56. We also suggested that anything short of a big earnings beat should be viewed as a miss. Boeing managed expectations well and produced the big beat on earnings that it needed, but this was an engineered beat that looks awfully good to investors and that will likely lift the company’s share price.

Boeing delivered 191 new commercial aircraft in the first quarter and took orders for a net 235 more planes. Operating margin rose by 0.4% to 11.8%, compared with the first quarter a year ago. Earnings from commercial aircraft sales rose by 23% in the quarter.

The company raised its forecast for adjusted EPS for 2014 from a range of $7.00 to $7.20 to a new range of $7.15 to $7.35 and maintained previous guidance for full-year revenues at $87.5 billion to $90.5 billion. The forecast for commercial aircraft deliveries was affirmed at 715 to 725. The consensus estimates for 2014 call for EPS of $7.38 on revenues of $90.09 billion.

At the end of the fourth quarter, Boeing offered EPS guidance that was sharply lower than the consensus estimate. Analysts cut full-year EPS estimates from $7.57 to $7.38, and now Boeing is guiding earnings just short of the analysts’ estimate. The company attributes the boost to a one-time tax benefit it will recognize in the second quarter. In other words, nothing has changed, and Boeing’s profits are still getting squeezed.

Boeing’s CEO said:

Our outlook for the full year remains positive on the strength of demand for our fuel-efficient new commercial airplanes, our solid position in global defense, space and security markets, and our enterprise focus on meeting customer commitments, improving productivity and profitably delivering the growth in our sizable backlog.

The company’s order backlog at the end of the quarter totaled $439.8 billion, down slightly from a record $441 billion at the end of the fourth quarter.

Boeing shares traded up about 2% in premarket trading Wednesday morning to $130.00, in a 52-week range of $87.20 to $144.57. The consensus target price for the shares was around $152.00 before the report.

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