Boeing profits beat forecasts but tanker woes worry investors

Plane maker's shares fall as it says the KC-46 refuelling aircraft programme has cost an additional $426m before taxes in the quarter

FILE PHOTO: A Boeing Air Force KC-46 aerial refueling tanker is parked near Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

Boeing on Wednesday posted better than expected quarterly profit and revenue but shares dropped as much as 3.6 per cent after it reported $426 million in higher costs on its long-delayed KC-46 aerial refuelling tanker programme.

Analysts worry that the world's largest plane maker's exposure to an escalating trade fight between Washington and Beijing as well as mounting costs on the tanker programme will slow Boeing shares, up more than 21 per cent year to date.

"The KC-46 has returned to again haunt Boeing's results," Vertical Research Partners analyst Robert Stallard said in a research note.

"Management has previously expressed confidence that there would be no more tanker charges, and yet they keep coming," Mr Stallard said, adding that the higher tanker costs came with unchanged earnings and cash flow forecasts.

Chicago-based Boeing said the KC-46 programme cost an additional $426m before taxes in the quarter as the company worked through test delays and production changes to eight aircraft in various stages of production.

Boeing has amassed about $3 billion in costs on the program, a derivative of its 767 commercial aircraft, as it works to deliver tankers to the Air Force in October - more than two years behind schedule.

Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg told analysts on a post-earnings conference call that plans to complete manufacturing on the tankers was "clear, and firmed up".

Mr Muilenburg also said he was not surprised by the unusually high number of plane orders announced during last week's Farnborough Airshow with unnamed buyers. Rival Airbus said the firms did not want to be identified due to jitters about appearing to side with the United States or other economic powers amid heated trade rhetoric.


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"I don't find it [the anonymity] surprising one way or the other," Mr Muilenburg said, adding that Chinese demand for Boeing aircraft extends far beyond a single air show.

"As we think about the China-US trade relationships, aerospace is something that is good for both countries," he said. "It creates growth capacity in China. It's helping to grow their economy. It's growing jobs in China. And as China grows, it's growing jobs in the US."

Despite the KC-46 problems, Boeing beat expectations on quarterly profit. Core earnings, which exclude some pension costs, were $3.33 per share, while the average analyst estimate was $3.26, according to Reuters.

Overall revenue rose 5 per cent to $24.26bn, also topping estimates, while commercial aircraft deliveries increased by 6 per cent to 194 aircraft. Boeing booked 239 net orders during the quarter, including 91 wide-body jets.

For the full year, the company expects total revenue of $97bn to $99bn, compared with its previous estimate of $96bn to $98bn.

Boeing also forecast a 2018 operating margin of 10 per cent to 10.5 per cent in its defence business, down from its previous outlook of around 11 per cent, and did not change its 2018 core earnings outlook of $14.30 to $14.50 per share.

Wall Street has estimated $14.56 per share.