What happened

Shares of Boeing (NYSE:BA) fell nearly 5% on Wednesday morning after the company posted a loss of nearly $12 billion in 2020. It was a year to forget for the aerospace giant, and investors are realizing there is no quick fix for what ails Boeing.

So what

Boeing before markets opened on Wednesday reported a fourth-quarter loss of $15.25 per share on revenue of $15.3 billion. There were some unexpected charges in the quarter, which helps explain the earnings miss relative to the $1.80-per-share loss analysts had expected.

Boeing lost $11.9 billion for the year on revenue of $58.2 billion, down 24% from a year prior. The company in 2020 was hit by the one-two blow of the pandemic, which reduced airline demand for new planes, and the continued fallout of its 737 MAX grounding.

Boeing's fleet of widebody jets.

Image source: Boeing.

"2020 was a year of profound societal and global disruption which significantly constrained our industry," Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in a statement. "The deep impact of the pandemic on commercial air travel, coupled with the 737 MAX grounding, challenged our results."

Boeing bled through $4.3 billion in the quarter and reported a negative $19.7 billion free cash flow figure for the full year. A lot of that spending was due to the 737 MAX, with Boeing forced to keep supply chains healthy and maintain a fleet of more than 400 planes yet to be delivered while the plane was undergoing a regulatory review.

The company had more than $25 billion in cash and equivalents at year's end.

Now what

The 737 MAX was cleared to fly again in November, which should help improve the free cash flow number heading into 2021. But issues remain.

Boeing took a fourth-quarter $6 billion charge related to its 777X widebody and said the plane would not make its debut until 2023. That's three years later than originally planned, the result of greater regulatory scrutiny into its development following the 737 MAX debacle and tepid airline demand for large, ocean-spanning aircraft.

The company has ratcheted down production schedules for 2021 in anticipation of a slow airline recovery following the pandemic. Even as airline operations begin to normalize in 2021, the industry will be focused on paying down some of the billions in new debt taken on during the crisis, limiting demand for new aircraft.

It's likely 2020 marked the low point for Boeing, but the year-end results are a reminder that the recovery will likely take years. Investors appear content to watch from the sidelines.

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