Mixed News for Boeing as It Waits for 737 Max Return

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Since March of 2019, Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) has not delivered a single 737 Max commercial jet. Reports earlier this week have suggested the plane’s U.S. grounding will be lifted soon, perhaps even as soon as Wednesday. So far neither Boeing nor the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has commented on when the plane will be recertified.

In the meantime, the world continues to turn. Last week, the European Union began imposing a 15% tariff on new Boeing jets sold in EU countries. Because the 737 Max is also grounded in Europe, the tariff has no impact yet, but aerospace industry research firm Leeham News & Analysis reports that there are more than 50 737 Max aircraft scheduled for delivery to EU member countries next year.

Leeham data indicates that 30 of the planes are scheduled for delivery to Ryanair, with the remaining planes headed to the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Spain. Boeing is also scheduled to deliver five 787 Dreamliners to EU nations next year. All these planes are subject to the 15% tariff.

Boeing also expects to deliver about half the 450 737 Maxes it has stored since last year’s delivery halt. Leeham reports that Boeing is building just seven new 737 Max airplanes per month.

The United States has been charging a 15% tariff on airplanes imported into the country since February. The dueling tariffs are the result of two long-running cases brought by Boeing and Airbus, each claiming the other had received illegal subsidies. The World Trade Organization agreed with both and allowed a tariff total of $7.5 billion of annual EU aircraft imports into the United States and $4 billion on U.S. exports to Europe.

Neither tariff is likely to have much impact on deliveries from either Boeing or Airbus. Right now, few airlines are buying new planes because the COVID-19 pandemic has cut passenger traffic by as much as 70%. When those numbers turn around, the tariff will get buried in the financing and have a modest impact on the sale of new planes.

What could give Boeing a bigger headache is a vote set for Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives that reforms the FAA’s aircraft certification process. The bipartisan bill responds to shortcomings in the certification process that were implicated in the two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia in late 2018 and early 2019 that killed 346 passengers and crew.

The Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act includes more than two dozen requirements to strengthen FAA certification oversight.

For investors, however, the imminent return to the skies of the 737 Max is carrying the day. Boeing stock traded up about 2.5% in the noon hour Tuesday, at $207.61 in a 52-week range of $89.00 to $374.83. The Dow Jones industrials traded down about 0.4% at the same time.

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