Boeing's (BA -0.46%) top competitor has secured a massive new commercial order from China worth an estimated $37 billion, a deal that highlights the U.S. aerospace manufacturer's difficulties selling into that important market. Investors were disappointed, sending Boeing shares down as much as 6.2% in Tuesday trading. They were still down 2.34% as of 1:30 p.m. ET.
Boeing and Airbus enjoy a duopoly in the commercial aircraft market, but the battle between the two companies is intense. Airbus won a key battle over the weekend when it announced China's top three airlines have committed to order nearly 300 jets, one of Airbus' largest-ever single-day orders and China's first big aviation move since the beginning of the pandemic.
Asia, and China in particular, are a big part of the growth plan for both Airbus and Boeing. Boeing still has hundreds of planes on order with Chinese and Hong Kong-based carriers, but the size and scale of this order is a huge win for Airbus.
The news is made worse by the impression that Boeing is having trouble doing business in China right now due to broader geopolitical concerns. Boeing said as much in a statement to reporters following the Airbus announcement, with a spokesperson quoted as saying, "it is disappointing that geopolitical differences continue to constrain U.S. aircraft exports."
Geopolitical concerns have also been blamed for China's hesitation to recertify Boeing's 737 MAX, a plane that was grounded for 18 months due to safety concerns but is now cleared to fly in the U.S. and in most of the world.
Boeing has faced a couple of tough years due to the 737 MAX issues and the pandemic. The question for investors is how long will it take for the aerospace giant to recover. And China, unfortunately, is a big part of that answer.
Boeing's debt ballooned from less than $15 billion to more than $60 billion during the pandemic as the company scrambled to make sure it survived. For the stock to take off from here, that debt needs to be paid down, and for that to happen, Boeing needs robust commercial cash flow coming through the door.
Fears of a recession eating into airline profits and hurting demand for new planes is already weighing on the stock. The thought of Boeing being frozen out of the all-important China market, even temporarily, is a fresh shock to investor confidence.
There are some catalysts on the horizon, including a potential big Delta Air Lines order that is rumored, but China is a massive overhang.
Boeing will likely fly through this turbulence eventually, but investors need to realize it will take quarters, if not years, for that to happen. With so much uncertainty and an extended timeline, there isn't a lot of reason to be excited about Boeing shares right now.