The arrival of the first vaccines to stop the spread of COVID-19 has raised hopes that the global economy is taking a first step to getting back on track. Both the Dow Jones industrials and the S&P 500 began posting a year-to-date gain shortly after the November elections, and the indexes have trended higher ever since.
Yet, individual stocks continue to struggle. We noted earlier Wednesday a nearly 60% decline in the share price of S&P 500 component Carnival cruise lines for the year to date, making it the worst performer among the equities that make up that index.
The Dow’s worst two performers have lost nearly 30% so far in 2020 and one of those, Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA), was the index’s top performer until a grounding order following two fatal crashes of its 737 Max led to the worldwide grounding of the company’s best-selling aircraft. In fact, Boeing reached its all-time high share price of around $446 per share just two weeks before the second fatal crash of a 737 Max.
At Tuesday’s closing price of $229.50, Boeing’s shares remain about 48% below their all-time high. The 737 Max is beginning a return to service late this year, but Boeing’s backlog of planes for delivery will take roughly two years to clear out. At the same time, the company will begin raising its production rate to reach 31 per month by the end of 2022. Boeing was manufacturing more than 40 of the planes per month when they were grounded.
The airline industry suffered a decline of around 60% in revenues this year and burned through an estimated $50 billion in cash during the second quarter and $40 billion in the third quarter. Government funding helped ease the pain, but about half the relief funding came in the form of loans, and the International Air Traffic Association (IATA) estimates that industry debt has ballooned by nearly 200% to $651 billion.
The IATA estimates that the industry won’t hit a break-even point until the end of 2021, and a full recovery could take three or four years, according to other estimates.
Boeing is expected to post a net loss per share of nearly $9.00 this year and a profit of $1.59 per share in 2021. The consensus 12-month price target on the shares is $224.87, and the high target is $306.00. Sales are forecast to rise from an estimated $59 billion this year to around $78 billion in 2021 and close to $88 billion in 2022.
Compare those projections to Boeing’s performance in fiscal year 2018, before the 737 Max crashes and the coronavirus pandemic. The company reported revenue of $101 billion and per-share profits of $12.33. While revenue is expected to rise year over year by about $20 billion in 2021, the outlook for 2022 is a gain of $10 billion. If that rate holds, Boeing won’t top $100 billion in revenue until 2025 at best.
While matching its all-time high share price is not out of the question for Boeing, unless the airline industry recovers miraculously from the pandemic and crushing debt, doubling the company’s share price looks like a distant goal.
In late morning trading Wednesday, Boeing’s shares had dipped by around 0.8% to $227.71, in a 52-week range of $89.00 to $349.55.