This article is part of our "Best Stocks for 2011" series in which our Foolish writers pick their top stock ideas for the year ahead. Click here to see a review of last year's picks and our 12 recommendations for the year ahead.
Given my musings over the past 12 months, my pick for next year's best stock might surprise you (or maybe it won't). But everything at Boeing (NYSE: BA ) has gone wrong for so long that something's bound to go right eventually.
I say that 2011 is the year it happens. This is the year that Boeing finds its wings.
2011: The year in preview
This past year has been one long, uninterrupted disaster at Boeing. There have been delays and disruptions in the Dreamliner program, scandal and a suspected loss at KC-X, and cutthroat cutbacks in Pentagon spending, which threaten the defense business as a whole.
But at some point, I predict, Murphy's Law will play itself out. There are only so many things that can go wrong for a given company. Eventually, the law of averages has to kick in, and something will go right for Boeing. If it happens in 2011, then what might these "right" events be?
Boeing either masters the soldering iron ...
Let's start with the cascading systems failure that began in a Boeing 787 electrical panel last month. Pundits are predicting that it will take Boeing anywhere from six to 12 months to fix what went wrong and make upgrades in software and wiring schematics.
If Boeing should beat the odds here, and deliver its first Dreamliner to Japan's All-Nippon Airways at any time in 2011 -- let alone at a date approximating its promised mid-first-quarter 2011 -- well, you can imagine the elation that will break out among Boeing investors. A promise fulfilled, rather than yet another vow broken? That's the ticket.
... or it doesn't
But even if the worst happens, and getting the 787 ready for prime time takes as long as analysts fear, Boeing's got other tricks up its sleeve to boost the stock price. The company's already proven itself willing to wheel and deal if it'll help it steal some of Lockheed Martin's (NYSE: LMT ) hope-for F-35 orders, and persuade the Pentagon to substitute orders for cheaper Boeing F-18 fighter jets instead.
And then there's the old 777 switcheroo. Boeing recently parlayed an embarrassing delay in 787 delivery into big profits in Russia, agreeing to sell extra 777s to Aeroflot to tide it over while it waits for the 787 program to get back on track. In one fell swoop, Boeing doubled the value of Aeroflot's order book; not bad for a day's work.
Consider, too, the multiple announcements of significantly accelerated production of the company's 737 Next-Generation aircraft. Boeing says a rapid ramp will have it churning out 737s at the rate of 38 a month by 2013, and rumors are it could go to 40. While that would have positive knock-on effects for suppliers like United Technologies (NYSE: UTX ) and Honeywell (NYSE: HON ) , certes, the biggest beneficiary would be Boeing.
Plus, the faster Boeing builds 737s for committed consumers like Southwest (NYSE: LUV ) and Delta (NYSE: DAL ) , the less likely we'll see defections to upstart regional jet builders from Canada and China. Sure, some say General Electric (NYSE: GE ) has thrown in its lot with China, agreeing to purchase a few C919s for its aircraft leasing operation, but I'd argue that's more "throwing 'em a bone" in the interests of landing orders to build engines for the plane, which is, after all, still just a model airplane as of this writing.
Speaking of the C919
Mightn't the Boeing bashers be jumping the gun a bit with their predictions of C919 success? I mean, the thing still hasn't proven it can fly, and it's not like the Chinese have a long history of regional passenger jet building to fall back on. Considering the trouble that Boeing, with its near-100-year history of plane building, has had getting its new 787 off the ground, what do you think the chances are that the Chinese are going to bring their C919 to market without a hitch?
As for Boeing's other putative passenger jet peer, Comac: Well, yes, its ARJ21 is further along than the C919, having made a few successful test flights over the past couple of years. However, last I heard, Comac was due to begin delivering ARJ21s in "late 2010." So that's later today or tomorrow, right? If Comac runs into trouble getting its plane ready for production, this will push the day Boeing has to face a new rival even further down the runway, and could push its stock price up. Maybe even as high as the 39% increase I posited as necessary to give Boeing shares a "fair price."
But what if I'm wrong?
If I'm wrong? If Boeing fails to crush the market in '11? Heck, it could happen. Nearly three out of every 10 stock picks I make do in fact underperform the market. (See for yourself.) But still, if Boeing turns out to be one of the three, a share of stock bought today will still yield you a tidy 2.6% dividend. That's better than a kick in the head, as the saying goes. Better than what your bank will pay you for depositing your money with it, too, I'll bet.
So even if I'm wrong about Boeing in 2011, you can just collect your dividend checks and bide your time. There's always 2012.
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Which is the best stock for 2011? See all 12 candidates here.