Boeing (BA 0.61%) and aviation are a significant part of the U.S. economy, so when the company's CEO, David Calhoun, speaks, it's usually a good idea to listen. His recent commentary on his company and aviation says much about the global economy. In addition, there are some significant clues as to what investors should be looking for in the upcoming earnings season. So even if you aren't a Boeing investor, the following strongly relates to investment thinking.
What David Calhoun said
The big news recently coming out of Boeing's CEO is that he believes that supply chain issues hitting the aviation industry will extend at least into 2023 and possibly late into the year. According to Reuters, Calhoun also said that the "biggest restraint" on suppliers was "labor availability".
The commentary on supply chain issues extending into 2023 isn't surprising. Many companies started 2022 expecting a significant improvement in the second half, only to warn that the supply chain issues were extending through 2022. For example, the management of industrial peer Illinois Tool Works doesn't "expect an improvement in the chip shortage situation until 2023," such that "automotive production and our associated automotive OEM revenues are essentially capped at current Q1 levels through the balance of the year." Meanwhile, management at Boeing's aviation partner General Electric (GE 0.58%) told investors that earnings were trending toward the low end of its full-year guidance, with ongoing supply chain issues hitting its healthcare, renewable energy, and aviation businesses.
Boeing's suppliers are suffering
Boeing investors got an advance warning of the supply chain issues when Tom Gentile, CEO of key supplier Spirit AeroSystems (SPR 1.96%), a manufacturer of aerostructure and components on the Boeing 737 MAX and other aircraft, told investors it expected to maintain a rate of 31 737 MAX aircraft a month. Previously, Spirit had expected to ramp up production in the fall, leading to a total of 350 for the year, but Gentile now expects just 315.
Boeing needs production ramp-ups
Boeing is struggling to ramp up production on its key aircraft program, the narrow-body 737 MAX. It's a significant issue for the company because Boeing's operating margin in its commercial airplane segment is highly dependent on volume. In other words, the more planes delivered, the more margin expansion opportunities. But, again, I'll return to this point later.
Not just component shortages
The component shortages are well documented, but it's worth dwelling on Calhoun's comment on "labor availability" in the industry is an issue. This suggests the supply chain issues may turn out to be more structural in nature than many previously thought. Some of the factors negatively influencing the supply chain -- the war in Ukraine, lockdowns in China and elsewhere, a lack of investment in crucial commodities and components such as semiconductors and energy -- can be resolved and are likely to prove temporary. However, the difficulty of acquiring and retaining a skilled workforce may prove a more lasting issue. Indeed, speaking in a Bloomberg interview Calhoun recently said a slowdown in the economy would be "helpful" for Boeing as it would make recruiting and retaining skilled workers easier.
As such, investors should brace themselves for ongoing supply chain issues through 2022.
What it means for investors
Boeing's problems with ramping up production echo across the industrial sector. The demand is there; the ability to meet all of it is not. As such, companies can't rely on volume increases to expand margins. Meanwhile, the component shortages, raw material cost inflation, and labor availability issues mean the issues won't go away anytime soon.
In this environment of difficulty with expanding production, pricing power is key to profit growth and margin expansion. As such, it's likely to be challenging if the company you invest in isn't demonstrating pricing power and can fully offset cost increases with pricing actions.
As for Boeing, its traditional reliance on volume ramp-ups and the fact that it is executing against a large backlog of already placed orders mean it is likely to face ongoing margin challenges.