Do New Plane Orders Make Boeing a Buy?

Annual industry-related air shows are always full of big stories. Usually the news involves a series of announcements of huge, multi-plane sales deals by some of the largest airline manufacturers and customers on the planet. The winners -- in this case Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) -- are able to set their proverbial table for years to come. The big deals and the associated huge dollar signs sound great, but what does it mean for the winning companies' bottom line?

Before we dig into the specs, let's allow Boeing to bask in its glory a bit first. By day two of the weeklong 2012 Farnborough air show, Boeing is well on its way to a gold medal. The way things are going, it may not even be close. Already ahead of rival Airbus in total orders for the year, Boeing was sitting on 287 in the first half of 2012 compared to 230 for Airbus, and it appears the gap between the two will widen.

In fact, the updated Boeing orders breakdown on the company's website already shows a net of 440 planes through June 30. If the trend continues, this will be the first time since 2006 that Boeing's ended the year ahead of "those other guys."

Deals and gossip
The air show kicked off on the 9th, and by the day's end, Boeing had an agreement with $2 billion Air Lease Corp. for 75 of the company's new, more fuel-efficient 737 Max planes. At a cool $7.2 billion, the deal was a great way to get the party started. And if the gossip that surrounds these gatherings is any indication, that may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Expected next week is another whopping 737 Max order for 100 new planes by United Continental Holdings. The total value of this deal will top out around $8.4 billion. Then there's the handshake agreement -- set to become inked when "details are worked out" -- with General Electric's jet leasing arm for yet another 100 planes.

And the deals aren't only for new planes. Boeing announced an agreement with Brazilian small plane manufacturer Embraer (NYSE: ERJ  ) to provide weapons integration for its fleet of Super Tucano jets. Dollar figures weren't released, but the deal is an extension of the collaborative agreement between the two companies signed in the spring of this year. This comes on the heels of the two companies working together on the KC-390 aircraft program, too. I think it's safe to say Boeing investors can look for more synergies between the two going forward.

What it really means
All those deals sound great; that's heady stuff when you start throwing around $7 billion and $8 billion figures. But those are what amount to retail prices. You know, what you or I would pay if we waltzed onto the Boeing showroom floor. Big buyers like United Continental and Air Lease aren't paying those prices, even though those are the figures we all hear about. Still big numbers, make no mistake, just not accurate.

Another factor to consider beyond the handshake deals is how long it actually takes to deliver those massive orders. And payment is due upon delivery, not in advance. In other words, Boeing inks a 100-plane deal, but that revenue only shows on the income statement when received. And as Boeing implements its plan to ramp up production capabilities to 42 a month by 2013, you begin to realize it'll be years before shareholders see the results of this year's air show wins on the bottom line. How long before newly ordered planes are in the air? At current rates of production (31.5 a month) for the 737 alone, there are over 2,200 planes backlogged that'll take six years to produce at current levels (and the fuel-efficient 737 Max, which was the star of the Farnborough show, won't be ready for delivery until at least 2017).

Other than a slight hiccup last quarter in which revenues were essentially flat, Boeing had been riding several consecutive quarters of sales growth. The problem has been managing consistently higher expenses and -- like its rival Airbus -- problems in delivering orders on time.

Compared to others in the same industry, Boeing is not outlandishly priced by any means, though aerospace competitors like Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) and Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) look a bit cheaper in some respects. At 10.5 and 8.2 times earnings, respectively, both may be better values compared to Boeing's 12.5 P/E. Boeing's 2.4% yield is also lower than either Lockheed's or Northrop's, but there's one key thing Boeing has much more of -- diversification. In addition to defense and aerospace technologies, Boeing's manufacturing capabilities place it firmly in a class by itself.

Farnborough is likely to help Boeing cement its place at the top of the race for orders by year-end (Airbus who?). For long-term investors right now, though, a lot of these orders can amount to just noise. Pleasant noise to be sure, but not the sweet music these deal-makers would have you believe. As the basis for a portfolio, Boeing's decent dividend and slight upside make sense. But for growth investors betting on all the good news? It's not quite what it appears. 

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Fool contributor Tim Brugger currently holds no securities positions, including any mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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