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Boeing Attracts Activist Attention

By Lou Whiteman – Updated Jun 3, 2020 at 1:25PM

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The aerospace giant also has deals in place to avoid 737 Max cancellations.

Billionaire investor Dan Loeb's Third Point has bought Boeing (BA 0.13%) debt, a sign of confidence in the beleaguered aerospace giant that is helping give a lift to its shares on Wednesday. Boeing is also making progress securing its massive commercial order book despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loeb's Third Point Offshore fund listed Boeing as one of its top winners in May, seemingly confirming market rumors that the fund has taken a position in Boeing. But the fund told CNBC on Wednesday it had bought debt, and not shares, of Boeing. 

A Boeing 737 Max on a tow.

Image source: Boeing.

Share of Boeing have lost more than half of their value year to date as airlines have scrambled to cut costs, and ground aircraft, due to a pandemic-related travel slowdown. Boeing has eliminated its dividend and is seeking to cut its headcount as it deals both with the pandemic and the ramifications of its grounded 737 Max aircraft. The Max debacle has revealed some embarrassing details about Boeing's culture and internal operations, and led to CEO Dennis Muilenburg being dismissed.

Loeb has a long history of activism and of taking passive long positions, so it is tough to read into his intentions with Boeing, though buying debt and not equity would imply he sees it as a good value and is not planning a proxy battle.

However, the company is making some progress in working with customers to make sure orders are not cancelled.

Aircraft leasing firm SMBC Aviation Capital announced overnight that it has deferred, but not cancelled, the delivery of 68 737 Max jets until 2025. And German travel company TUI Group said it has reached a financial agreement with Boeing for compensation due to delayed Max deliveries, keeping most of its order book intact.

The agreements avoid the worst-case scenario for Boeing, but they do indicate a long, and costly, recovery is up ahead.

Editors' Note: This article has been updated to clarify that Third Point has taken a debt position in Boeing rather than an equity position.

Lou Whiteman 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.

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