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Why Shares of Boeing Are Falling Today

By Lou Whiteman - Mar 18, 2020 at 10:22AM

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With aircraft demand cratering, the company turns to Washington for help.

What happened

Shares of Boeing (BA 5.64%) continued their downward spiral on Wednesday, trading down more than 19% at the opening. The company faces serious questions about its liquidity and demand for new commercial aircraft, and investors are running for the exits.

So what

Boeing was battling turbulence well before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic -- fighting to restore investor and airline confidence following the March 2019 grounding of its 737 MAX airplane. The company's outlook has grown worse as the outbreak has spread as global airlines are scrambling to trim schedules and cut costs, which includes grounding aircraft and deferring new orders.

The situation has led Boeing to seek U.S. government assistance; the company is seeking at least $60 billion in aid for itself and its suppliers. Boeing said it would use any liquidity support to make payments to suppliers to maintain the health of its supply chain for the time when demand returns.

Artist rendering of Boeing 787 Dreamliners and 777 aircraft flying in formation.

Boeing's commercial twin-aisle family of jets. Image source: Boeing.

"The long term outlook for the industry is still strong, but until global passenger traffic resumes to normal levels, these measures are needed to manage the pressure on the aviation sector and the economy as a whole," Boeing said in a statement.

The company recently drew down $13.8 billion in loans to support its liquidity but is clearly worried about a prolonged downturn in new jet sales. The aid request follows a similar request from the airlines for about $50 billion in assistance and other calls for help by the hotel industry and other travel businesses.

But the request for help couldn't come at a worse time for Boeing, which has been trying to rebound from a year full of embarrassing revelations about its culture and accusations that it put profits ahead of safety when developing the 737 MAX.

Now what

On Sunday, I wrote that despite Boeing shares being down 50% year to date, I still wouldn't buy in. That's hard to believe, but just three days later, the stock is down another 39%. Boeing shares have now lost nearly 70% of their value in 2020.

The company today trades at less than 0.8 times sales, but sales are likely to be trending down in 2020. The stock is, without doubt, cheaper today than it has been in a long time. But absent some clarity as to the extent of the issues the company is facing and a better idea of what new aircraft demand is going to look like over the next few years, I'd avoid buying these shares, even if they keep falling.

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