After a strong start to 2017, Boeing (NYSE:BA) saw a distinct slowdown in order activity beginning around midyear. Indeed, after capturing 381 firm orders in the first half of the year, Boeing only booked 117 firm orders between early July and mid-October.
Investors need not have been worried. As expected, Boeing's order activity is accelerating as the end of the year approaches. Thanks to a slew of recent firm orders, Boeing could soon surpass its 2016 order total.
Boeing makes a big announcement
Earlier this week, Boeing made a highly publicized announcement about an agreement to sell 300 airplanes to China Aviation Supplies Holding Company. This deal was signed in conjunction with President Trump's visit to China.
While this announcement grabbed the headlines, it may have just been a public relations stunt. Most of the airplanes were covered by previous deals going back as far as 2013, according to Bloomberg. Thus, many of these orders are already included in Boeing's backlog, attributed to unidentified customers. Furthermore, even if some of the 300 planes were not covered under earlier deals, it's not clear how many of them are firm orders as opposed to non-binding commitments.
There was real news, too
Fortunately, Boeing had some real China-related news to report this week. On Thursday, the company announced that it had finalized an order for 46 737 MAX planes (net of conversions) and eight 787s from Chinese aircraft leasing company CDB Aviation.
This wasn't a completely new order, either: It was first announced as a commitment at the Paris Air Show earlier this year. However, turning commitments into firm orders is an important step in closing aircraft deals. The CDB Aviation commitment was just one of many tentative deals struck by Boeing in the past year that now need to be finalized.
Boeing has also finalized several smaller deals recently. It added 69 net firm orders to its backlog in an update posted on Thursday, including the 54 aircraft for CDB Aviation. Just in the past three weeks, Boeing has booked 107 firm orders (net of conversions and cancellations). That brings its full-year total to 605 net firm orders.
Boeing is in great shape
Boeing brought in a grand total of 668 net firm orders in 2016. With more than seven weeks left in the year, Boeing is already closing in on that number. Furthermore, there are still hundreds of outstanding commitments -- mainly from the Paris Air Show -- that could boost Boeing's 2017 order total if they're finalized soon. Aircraft manufacturers typically rush to complete a lot of these deals in December.
The Dubai Airshow is also starting this weekend. While Middle Eastern airlines are unlikely to go on a big buying spree this year, Boeing has a decent shot at capturing some additional orders in the next few days.
Thus, it's virtually guaranteed that Boeing will surpass the 668 firm orders it brought in last year. It even has a good chance of achieving a "book-to-bill" ratio of at least 1.0 by finalizing enough orders to match or exceed the 760-765 commercial airplanes it expects to deliver in 2017. (At the beginning of the year, management didn't think that was likely to happen.)
No wonder Boeing shares are up nearly 70% year to date. The aerospace giant is about to put the finishing touches on an incredibly successful 2017.