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Boeing Earnings: Here's What Really Matters for Investors

By Adam Levine-Weinberg – Jul 26, 2016 at 10:15AM

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Boeing isn't likely to provide much useful information about its sales prospects, but investors may learn more about its cost-cutting progress.

Boeing (BA 2.01%) is set to release its Q2 earnings on Wednesday morning. But it pre-empted many of the headlines last week by announcing a slew of special charges that will be recorded in this earnings report.

That has still left Boeing shareholders with a lot of questions. However, only some of them are likely to be answered this week.

What we already know

Last week, Boeing announced that it will record three earnings charges this quarter, totaling $3 billion before tax and $2.1 billion after tax.

First, the company reclassified more than $1 billion (before taxes) out of inventory into R&D expense after deciding that it wasn't worth trying to refurbish and sell two of the first 787 Dreamliners it ever built.

Boeing is writing off the cost of two early build Dreamliner models. Image source: The Motley Fool.

Second, Boeing gave up on its plan to boost 747 production from 0.5/month to 1/month in 2019. As a result, it reduced the program accounting quantity -- essentially Boeing's estimate of how many 747 jumbo jets it will ultimately sell -- forcing it to take an $814 million after-tax charge.

Finally, Boeing is recording a $393 million after-tax charge related to its KC-46 Pegasus military tanker development program. While the company has finally resolved the major development snafus, it has suffered significant cost overruns.

Based on Boeing's typical earnings power, it's possible that these charges will cause it to report a loss for Q2. The good news -- if you can call it that -- is that all of these issues were well-known to analysts long before Boeing announced these special charges. Furthermore, they won't materially impact Boeing's cash flow this year.

What investors need to know -- and won't find out

In order to meet its financial goals, Boeing will need to garner enough airplane orders to match its current production plans. However, widebody aircraft orders have been few and far between this year. As of last week, Boeing had received just 8 net firm orders for the 777 family and 19 net firm orders for the 787 family in 2016.

Boeing has plenty of time to wait for Dreamliner demand to pick up again, as the 787 backlog remains substantial. By contrast, the 777 backlog is shrinking rapidly and there are large gaps in the order book for 2018 and 2019.

Boeing is having trouble keeping its 777 production line busy. Image source: Boeing.

Investors would love to know whether Boeing is making progress toward finalizing some more 777 sales. But an earnings call isn't a typical forum to announce aircraft orders. Furthermore, while Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg has talked about ongoing sales campaigns for the 777 during recent earnings calls, these haven't yet translated to orders. This highlights the vast difference between a "significant campaign" and a firm order.

Here's what investors may learn

So what can investors possibly hope to learn from the Boeing earnings report this week? While meaningful information about Boeing's future revenue prospects will likely be scarce, the company may share some details on its cost reduction efforts.

One key item of interest to investors is how fast Dreamliner production costs declined. Boeing is counting on substantial cost improvements for the 787 family over the next couple of years in order to earn enough profit to offset the substantial losses incurred on the first several hundred Dreamliners it produced.

Investors may also learn more about Boeing's efforts to cut overhead costs. Earlier this year, the company announced that it would cut about 4,500 jobs by the end of June in order to cope with customers' demands for cheaper airplanes.

Cost-cutting may not seem as exciting or as important as selling airplanes. But in addition to boosting Boeing's earnings in the short term, cost-cutting can also help it sell more planes in the future by improving its competitiveness. This makes Boeing's cost-cutting efforts crucial to the company's long-term success.

Adam Levine-Weinberg owns shares of Boeing. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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