Foolish Forecast: Boeing on the Radar

It's been -- how do I put this? -- an "eventful" quarter for aeronautical juggernaut Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) these past three months. One suspects that Boeing won't be at all sad to close the books on the first quarter of 2008. The sooner, the better.

What analysts say:

  • Buy, sell, or waffle? Twenty-one analysts keep Boeing on their radar today. Ten still rate it a buy, nine more say hold, and two think it's time to sell.
  • Revenues. On average, they're looking for sales to rise 7.5% to $16.52 billion.
  • Earnings. Profits could be up as much as 20% at $1.35 per share.

What management says:
Over three eventful months, two events stand out for their ability to shape Boeing's destiny. The first was Boeing's loss of the Air Force's highly publicized KC-X Tanker contract to a team led by rival Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) , and including European aero-specialist EADS, as well as Northrop's fellow countrymen General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , and Honeywell (NYSE: HON  ) .

The second, no less publicized, was Boeing's latest announced delay in fielding its vaunted 787 Dreamliner civilian aircraft. This quarter, Boeing customers such as Continental (NYSE: CAL  ) , Northwest (NYSE: NWA  ) , and AIG's (NYSE: AIG  ) International Lease Finance subsidiary will probably grab the headlines, as they begin demanding compensation for Boeing's tardy delivery of the latter aircraft.

What management does:
Although it's been a remarkably smooth flight so far for Boeing, I see turbulence ahead. For well over a year, Boeing's margins have taken a steep incline at all levels: gross, operating, and net.

Margins

9/06

12/06

3/07

6/07

9/07

12/07

Gross

17.3%

18.0%

18.2%

19.3%

19.4%

19.6%

Operating

5.4%

6.0%

6.4%

7.7%

8.0%

8.4%

Net

2.9%

3.6%

3.8%

5.6%

6.1%

6.1%

All 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:
And that's really the crying shame of Boeing. Things have been going swell for a long time now, and they're likely to look superb in tomorrow's news as well, but Boeing won't get any credit for its achievements. All eyes will instead fix firmly on the future, which as recently as last quarter looked just ducky -- but it's also where Boeing's goose looks increasingly cooked.

So why do I remain bullish on Boeing? In large part because of the bad news we're waiting to hear. Everyone who's down on this company is overlooking how insanely cheap the stock remains. Based on last year's free cash flow, I have this company trading for less than eight times its free cash flow. Yet for all of the doom and gloom, analysts still expect Boeing to grow at upwards of 13% per year over the next half-decade. In this Fool's view, that means Boeing is still a buy, regardless of what it tells us tomorrow.

Read up on recent Boeing news in:


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