Aerospace & Defense

Investors' Hopes for the 737 Max Are Stronger Than Boeing's Dismal October Report

On reports that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration may be only a week away from recertifying its bread-and-butter aircraft, Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) stock traded up more than 6% on Tuesday despite another terrible month for new orders and a possible 15% tariff on sales of new jets to European Union countries.

Boeing did not write a single new order in the month of October, and the company delivered just 13 new aircraft to customers. Four of the new planes were 787s, with two going to the Middle East and one each to Europe and the United States. Three 777 freighters were delivered in the month, along with two 767 freighters and one 747 freighter. One 777 passenger jet was delivered to the Middle East, one 737NG was delivered to India and one 767 was delivered to the company’s U.S. Air Force tanker program.

The troubles for 737 Max orders got worse with an additional 37 of the single-aisle passenger jets removed from the company’s backlog. Of that total, Boeing canceled 12 and removed 25 that the company now believes won’t ever be fulfilled.

In the first 10 months of the year, Boeing has canceled 448 of its 737 Max backlog and removed another 595 that are unlikely to be fulfilled because the ordering airline’s credit quality has dropped so low that it may not be able to pay for the planes or because the delivery delay violates contract terms and could result in a customer cancellation. Boeing has not been able to ship a new 737 Max jet since March of last year.

For the year to date, Boeing’s backlog has dropped by 1,020 orders to 5,121. Of that total, the 737 family, including the Max, account for 4,145 orders, just over 80% of the company’s total backlog. The 787 Dreamliner accounts for 515 unfilled orders and the 777 family accounts for 366.

As a result of a WTO decision in October, the EU will begin to impose annual tariffs of $4 billion on Boeing planes and some other U.S. goods. An earlier WTO decision allows the United States to impose about $7.5 billion in tariffs on European goods, including imported Airbus aircraft.

The possibility that Boeing will have the 737 Max back in the air before the end of this year appears to be the primary factor driving Boeing’s share price Tuesday. At noon the stock was up about 6% to $190.34, in a 52-week range of $89.00 to $375.60. The consensus price target is $170.77.

The resurgence of COVID-19 infections has kept air traffic to around 30% of 2019 levels and wreaked havoc on airline purchase plans. Even if Boeing were able to move ahead with 737 Max deliveries, it is not clear that the airlines are in any big rush to take delivery of new planes.