Aerospace & Defense

Airbus Sold More Planes and Posted a Larger Loss Than Boeing

When Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) reported fourth-quarter and full-year 2019 results last month, the aircraft maker said it lost $3.47 per share in 2019 on an adjusted basis and a GAAP net loss per share of $1.12. Boeing delivered just 380 new commercial jets last year, a 53% decline compared with the 806 places delivered to customers in 2018.

On Thursday morning, Airbus announced its quarterly and full-year 2019 results. The company delivered 863 commercial jets in 2019, up from 800 in 2018 and revenue rose from €63.7 billion (about $70.46 billion at an exchange rate of €1 = $1.11) to €70.5 billion.

Airbus, however, delivered a larger unadjusted loss per share for the year than did Boeing, €1.75 on an unadjusted EBIT of €1.34 billion, down from €5.05 billion in 2018. Airbus took charges totaling €5.61 billion last year, the largest of which was a €3.6 billion fine for shady business practices.

The company also took a €1.2 billion charge against its A400M military transport plane as it revises the plane’s technical capabilities. Airbus also noted that “the outlook is increasingly challenging on exports during the launch contract phase [of the A400M], [and] also in light of the repeatedly extended German export ban to Saudi Arabia.”

How can a duopoly like Airbus-Boeing lose so much money? Are company managers unlucky or incompetent? Airbus is papering over its massive loss by raising its dividend from €1.65 to €1.80 per share. Boeing borrowed $25.4 billion last year, at least some of which is going toward keeping intact its $8.22 annual dividend.

The reason there are only two companies still making large commercial passenger planes is that it costs a fortune and takes years to design and build a new aircraft. Boeing is still $20 billion in the red on the 787 Dreamliner. While investors in these companies may have patience, that patience is not unlimited. So some of the companies’ vast cash flows (in good times) have to be returned to customers.

One could make the argument that at their roots, the reason these two giants have lost the ability to make money is arrogance. Airbus bribed customers and Boeing planes have been blamed for killing 346 people. While the circumstances are qualitatively different, the two companies believed either that they could dodge responsibility for their actions or that they could get off with a slap on the wrist.

Neither outcome proved true. Will that inject a bit of humility into either Airbus or Boeing or both? That remains to be seen, but a betting person might think twice before making that wager.

Airbus stock traded down about 1.2% in Paris Thursday, at €134.90 in a 52-week range of €107.18 to €139.40. The consensus 12-month price target on the stock is €120.82.