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Foolish Forecast: Boeing's da Bomb

For 19 straight quarters, Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) has looked down on analyst earnings estimates that looked like ants scurrying far below. But can this ace airliner builder put together a second "perfect 10" string of earnings beats? We'll find out Wednesday morning, when Boeing reports its Q4 and full-year 2007 results.

What analysts say:

  • Buy, sell, or waffle? Twenty-three analysts keep Boeing on their radar. Ten rate it a buy, nine more say hold, and four think it's time to sell.
  • Revenues. On average, they're looking for quarterly sales to dip 1% to $17.33 billion.
  • Earnings. Profits may eke out a 2% rise to $1.32 per share.

What management says:
The most recent big news out of Boeing was its announced partnership with Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) to compete with Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) for the right to build the nation's next-generation strategic bomber. Interestingly, that news came just a couple of weeks after Boeing announced it submitted its final bid to build the Pentagon's next-generation airborne tanker.

Boeing teamed up with Rockwell Collins (NYSE: COL  ) , United Technologies (NYSE: UTX  ) , and Honeywell (NYSE: HON  ) on the latter contract. And against whom did it team up? Northrop once again, and compadres General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , EADS, and Honeywell (playing both sides of the fence). High stakes indeed.

In less militaristic news, this quarter also brought us reports that Boeing has run into a glitch or three in the supply chain for building its 787 Dreamliner. Shouldn't be anything to worry about. I imagine they'll have this fixed in a jiffy. Not.

What management does:
It's a crying shame about the Dreamliner, but investors who root for the underdog may think the shame is deserved. Boeing archrivals EADS and Airbus had more than their share of bad news last year, while Boeing soared higher and higher on record sales, and rapidly expanding margins (see below). When the New England Patriots play the Baltimore Ravens, you may know who's going to win in the end, but you still want the game to look interesting.





























Data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.

One Fool says:
This earnings season I'm running down the "backlog" numbers at the major defense contractors to find clues to what their futures hold. Boeing may not be a defense company exclusively, but it does get roughly half its revenues from defense-related work in any given year.

Like the best of its defense industry brethren, Boeing gives detailed statistics on its backlog situation, breaking these "future revenues" down into three categories: "contractual" backlog, "unobligated" (which refers to "U.S. and foreign government definitive contracts for which funding has not been authorized," and so means essentially the same thing as other companies' "unfunded backlog" line item); and "total" backlog.

Here's how these numbers have been trending relative to sales:

Q3 2005

Q3 2006

Q3 2007

Contractual backlog

$133.6 billion

$190.1 billion

$262.9 billion

Unobligated backlog

$43.5 billion

$38.7 billion

$32.2 billion

Total backlog

$177.1 billion

$228.8 billion

$295.1 billion

YTD revenues

$40.6 billion

$44.0 billion

$48.9 billion

So as you can see, Boeing has grown its sales about 20% over the past two years. Good, but not superb. Whereas the company is superb in inking contracts for future sales. Total backlog is up 67% over the last two years, while unfunded contracts are making up a smaller and smaller portion of future work.

Boeing's future looks more secure than ever ... assuming it can figure out how to get those darned 787s to fly.

Read other recent Boeing news:

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