A combination of continued pandemic-related weakness and lingering quality issues caused Boeing (BA 1.61%) to bleed through $3.67 billion in cash, or about $40 million per day, during the first quarter, a reminder that there is no quick fix for what ails the aerospace giant.
Boeing today reported a first-quarter loss of $1.53 per share, worse than the $1.16 loss estimate, on revenue that was in line with expectations. Wall Street went into the quarter with low expectations, and in fact had predicted cash outflow would top $4 billion.
The company's massive commercial operation has been under pressure since the 2019 grounding of the 737 MAX after a pair of fatal accidents. The plane was returned to service late last year, but new jet demand has faltered as airlines try to cope with the pandemic.
In recent months, Boeing has dealt with additional engineering issues with the 737 MAX and its 787 Dreamliner that have stalled deliveries, further crimping cash flow.
In a message to employees, CEO Dave Calhoun sounded upbeat, saying the company made "important strides" in the quarter to get the business back on track.
"While the impacts of COVID-19 continue to challenge the overall market environment, we view 2021 as a key inflection point for our industry as vaccine distribution accelerates and we work together across government and industry to help enable a robust recovery," Calhoun said.
But a recovery will take time. Boeing does not believe passenger traffic will return to 2019 levels until 2023 at the earliest.
Its defense business failed to offset the commercial weakness, booking a $318 million charge on the new Air Force One project in part due to COVID-19 impacts and what it called "performance issues at a key supplier."