Aerojet Rocketdyne (NYSE:AJRD) welcomed a new chief financial officer on Monday -- and boy, does he ever have work to do.

In a few years, Aerojet Rocketdyne will have a new rocket ready for American spaceflight. In the short term, it needs to get ready to face disappointed investors. Image source: Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Last month, Aerojet confirmed that it has hired away Paul R. Lundstrom from his old job as vice president of investor relations at United Technology (NYSE:RTX) to become Aerojet's new CFO. Incidentally, United Tech used to own Aerojet's Rocketdyne division during Lundstrom's tenure there, so he should be very familiar with the company already.

That knowledge should come in handy, because one of the first tasks Lundstrom will be asked to achieve (by investors, at least) is to ensure Aerojet Rocketdyne hits the earnings target that Wall Street has told them to expect.

The number you need to know

$0.83 per share. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence data, that's what Wall Street analysts expect Aerojet Rocketdyne to earn this year. But with three quarters down and just one more to go, getting there is going to be a heap of work.

You see, just last week, before Lundstrom even arrived on the job, Aerojet Rocketdyne announced its earnings for fiscal Q3 2016, and updated its numbers for the year to date. As far as revenue goes, the news wasn't bad: Aerojet reported modest year-over-year sales growth of 5% -- $463.8 million for the quarter. But despite growing sales, Aerojet reported no GAAP earnings in Q3, but rather a $0.17 per share net loss for its business.

Thanks to this result, all the profit that Aerojet had recorded earlier in the year has now been wiped out, and Aerojet's earnings for this year have been reset to $0.00 per share. Essentially, Aerojet is back at square one. All the earnings that Wall Street expects it to earn this year, Aerojet must now earn in the fourth quarter.

Can it be done? Maybe. But I don't envy Lundstrom's job trying to get the company there. Scrolling through S&P Global's copious data archives, I've found only two instances in which Aerojet Rocketdyne earned $0.83 or more in a single quarter over the past 15 years. Sure, given sufficient tax credits and other one-time items, it's theoretically possible that Aerojet Rocketdyne could pull a rabbit out of the hat and somehow report $0.83 a share.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

Checking in on the rocket

Enough about the earnings game. The other thing investors want to know about Aerojet Rocketdyne is how its AR1 rocket engine is coming along -- the one that Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) are considering for use aboard their new Vulcan space rocket.

According to management, progress is being made, and $135 million of a budgeted $804 million has already been invested in development of the AR1. Aerojet has borne roughly half the cost of this development to date, with the rest of the money coming from the U.S. government, and Boeing and Lockheed as partners in the development via ULA.

Despite the progress, however, Aerojet still lags privately funded Blue Origin. Aerojet says it hopes to complete development of AR1 "no later than December 31, 2019." That may be too late to win it a place on ULA's Vulcan, however. ULA has already expressed a preference for Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket, which is expected to be ready to fly as early as 2017

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