Aerospace & Defense

As Boeing Faces Disaster, Spin Out of Defense Unit Becomes Essential

Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) was been hit with crippling news. Due to a lack of orders, unless the government gives its aid, the company could be worthless to common shareholders. Investors who suffered through 2019 have already been hit with another 70% drop this year

Regardless of what the government does to help Boeing, its defense, space and security units have been an ongoing success. Boeing has the chance to salvage investor results and jobs if it spins off these businesses into a new publicly held corporation. Or it might sell the unit altogether.

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 have fallen modestly compared to the balance of the market. Defense spending is not expected to fall. Neither are purchases from foreign governments.

In the fourth quarter of last year, revenue dropped 37% to $19.7 billion. The operating loss was $2.2 billion, compared with an operating profit of $4.2 billion in the year-ago period.

Revenue for its Commercial Airplane division dropped 55% from a year ago to $7.5 billion. The operating loss was $2.2 billion, compared to a profit of $2.6 billion the year before.

Revenue for Boeing’s defense, space and security unit rose 13% to $6 billion. Operating income was $31 million, compared to $771 million in the year-ago period.

Boeing’s global services business, which supports all of its products, had revenue of $4.7 billion in the fourth quarter, down 5%. Operating income was $684 million, compared to $737 million in the year-ago period.

Boeing’s defense, space and security business has as its primary customers U.S. and overseas governments. The division’s backlog for defense and services is $64 billion, of which 29% is from customers outside America. Revenue from these operations is almost certain to be steady or to rise. Simultaneously, Boeing’s commercial airplane business could suffer from revenue that will collapse to zero.

Boeing recently issued a statement that said: “America’s aerospace industry – which supports over 2.5 million jobs and 17,000 suppliers – is facing an urgent challenge resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.” It appealed for public funding. A number of questions remain. Will the government provide money for Boeing? If so, at what price? Will it insist on ownership going forward?

Boeing could sell its defense operations to a rival to raise funds. With a market capitalization of $53 billion, which is negatively affected by its commercial plane business, Boeing might get that much in a buyout. It is about the same market cap as Northrup Grumman. Or it could spin out the defense operation and get shareholders something other than a stock that could be worth zero.