Boeing (BA 3.10%) shareholders have had a year to forget, with the stock at one point down nearly 75% in 2020. It came back to life in November, gaining 45.9% for the month, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. Signs that some of the company's biggest issues are finally on the mend drove the rebound.
This year, Boeing has dealt with the one-two punch of the continued fallout from the 737 MAX scandal and the pandemic's impact on airlines. The 737 MAX was grounded in March 2019 after a pair of fatal accidents, leading to a lack of deliveries that has dried up free cash flow. The pandemic, meanwhile, has caused airlines to clip growth plans and plane orders due to a lack of passenger demand.
Boeing bled through more than $15 billion in the first nine months of 2020 as it tried to manage those dual crises. The company has cut its forecast for total deliveries over the next decade and is scaling back its plane assembly operations in anticipation of a long, slow period ahead.
November provided good news on both fronts. The 737 MAX got the all-clear to fly again after 20 months on the ground. This approval paves the way for Boeing to begin working through the inventory of more than 400 planes it assembled during the grounding and bring in some much-needed cash.
Airlines also rallied on progress toward a COVID-19 vaccine, which should be the first step toward an eventual sector recovery.
It appears that we're past the low point for Boeing, and investors are understandably excited. Yet there's a danger the stock could get ahead of itself.
Trying to place all those 737 MAX planes Boeing built up in inventory during the pandemic will be challenging. Southwest Airlines and others are reportedly in talks with Boeing to get some of the airframes that no longer have buyers on the cheap. The process could take quarters to resolve. Boeing likely won't get anywhere near the per-plane price it would've gotten prior to the downturn.
Even when travel demand returns, Boeing won't have blue skies. Airlines are saddled with billions in new debt taken on to weather the storm. They're unlikely to aggressively buy new planes anytime soon.
It's the beginning of the end of the worst for Boeing, but the next chapter in the recovery is going to take a long time to play out. It's hard to imagine the next few months going as well for Boeing as November did.