What happened

Boeing (NYSE:BA) stock jumped nearly 7% in early trading Wednesday after reporting record results for fiscal 2017 -- and giving new guidance for 2018 far above what Wall Street had been expecting. The stock has given back some of those gains as of 3:35 p.m. EST, but the shares are still up 4.7%.

For fiscal Q4 2017, Boeing earned $5.18 per share and said its "core earnings per share" were $4.80 -- much more than the $2.91 per share that analysts had expected it to earn. Quarterly sales of $25.4 billion likewise exceeded Wall Street's expectations.

Boeing 737 head on

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg summarized the quarter thusly: "Across Boeing our teams delivered a record year of financial and operational performance." And indeed, Boeing's improvement over last year's Q4 (itself not a weak quarter by any means) was striking. Per-share profits of $5.18 in Q4 2017 were literally twice what Boeing earned a year ago, and sufficient to lift full-year GAAP profit to $13.43 per share (up 76% over full-year 2016 earnings). Sales were down 1% for the year, but up 9% for the quarter.

Operating profit margin continued a long-term trend of steady growth, rising 250 basis points (to 11.9%) in Q4, and rising 450 basis points (to 11%) for the year.

Now what

Anticipating even more growth in the year ahead, Boeing announced new guidance for the coming fiscal year. In 2018, Boeing expects to earn between $15.90 and $16.10 per share in profit on sales of $96 billion-$98 billion, maintaining an operating profit margin of 11% or better in both its commercial airplanes and defense and space and security businesses.

Core earnings per share -- the number Wall Street will presumably focus on -- should range between $13.80 and $14. Free cash flow (my own preferred metric) should approximate $12.8 billion (up 10% year over year), giving Boeing a price-to-free-cash-flow ratio of only 16.6, assuming Boeing hits its target.

Investors are right to be enthused.

Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.