"For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." -- Hosea 8:7
That's the quote that came to mind when I learned that Boeing (NYSE: BA ) had lost more than a dozen orders for its new 787 "Dreamliner" last night.
Australian airliner Qantas announced that it has canceled orders for 15 of Boeing's most expensive Dreamliner 787-9 aircraft, and delayed delivery on another 15 787-8s. The move will save Qantas $3 billion in capital expenditures, so bully for Qantas on that front. Boeing, however, just saw its backlog shrink by another $3 billion. And after briefly inching into positive territory, Boeing's running tally of sales inked so far this year now reads less than zero. That's bad news not just for Boeing but also for 787 parts suppliers such as Honeywell (NYSE: HON ) , United Technologies (NYSE: UTX ) , and Spirit Aerosystems (NYSE: SPR ) .
And it gets worse ...
Coming so soon after Boeing's latest delay in getting the 787 airborne, you might assume, as I did, that it was this snafu that cost Boeing the 30 sales. Right?
Wrong. We should be so lucky. According to Qantas, Boeing's last-minute flight test cancellation in no way influenced yesterday's cancelled orders. To the contrary, Qantas tells us that "reducing overall 787 capacity is prudent" because "the operating environment for the world's airlines has clearly changed dramatically."
In other words, it's the economy, Fool. Take one recession, add a dose of swine flu, and the world's airlines are hurtin' something awful. Bad enough that they don't even need Boeing's incompetence to help them decide to cancel orders -- they're doing it without prompting.
... and worst
If you're not scared yet, then listen to this: After announcing the cancellations, Qantas shares rose 2.5% in early trading before falling back a bit. Although one day's trading doesn't necessarily mean much, I shudder to think whether U.S. airlines will follow suit.
Seems to me that if Mr. Market gave Qantas the thumbs-up for canceling its 787s, then other airlines with "firm" 787 orders -- running from AIG's (NYSE: AIG ) International Lease Finance subsidiary to Continental (NYSE: CAL ) to Delta (NYSE: DAL ) -- must take this into account, and consider whether canceling orders might do similar wonders for their own stock prices.
The Qantas cancellation was a bummer, to be sure. But it's only the first seed. Find yourself a basement, Fools, and hunker down -- because a bigger whirlwind's a-comin'.