Aerospace & Defense

Boeing Should Spin Off Defense Operations as 737 Max Troubles Explode

A Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) employee, in a comment about the troubled 737 Max, commented: “This airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.” As Boeing is in the midst of plans to get the 737 Max back in the air, it is hard to come up with a set of circumstances that could be more damning,

Boeing shares rose only 1% last year, compared with a 30% gain for the S&P 500. The 737 Max debacle has ruined the financial results of Boeing’s commercial division. However, its defense, space and security units have been an ongoing success. Boeing has the chance to salvage investor results if it spins off these businesses into a new publicly held corporation.

Boeing’s defense, space and security businesses compete with Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT), Northrup Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC) and a few other companies that rule the defense and aerospace sector. The stocks of these companies did particularly well in 2019: Lockheed Martin’s shares were up 47%, and Northrup Grumman’s were higher by 40%.

In the third quarter, Boeing’s revenue dropped 21% to $20 billion. Operating income fell 43% to $1.26 billion. Revenue for its Commercial Airplane division dropped 41% from the same period last year to $8.2 billion. The division had an operating loss of $40 million, against an operating profit of $2 billion in the period in 2018. Revenue for Boeing’s defense, space and security unit rose 2% to $7 billion. Operating income was $755 million, compared to a loss of $247 million in the year-ago period.

Boeing’s defense, space and security business has U.S. and overseas governments as its primary customers. The division’s backlog for defense and services is $62 billion, of which 30% is from customers outside America. Revenue from these operations is almost certain to be steady or to rise. Boeing commercial airplane business could suffer from falling revenue and operating losses for years.

Boeing’s new CEO, David L. Calhoun, recently said, “I strongly believe in the future of Boeing and the 737 MAX. I am honored to lead this great company and the 150,000 dedicated employees who are working hard to create the future of aviation.” The new comments by Boeing employees just make the future of the plane more difficult.

However, Boeing’s future is not with the 737 Max. It is with Boeing’s defense, space and security division. As a separate company, it would be among the 20 largest defense companies in the world.