In a first half of the year where the S&P 500 fell more than 20%, Boeing (BA -0.89%) still managed to stand out for all the wrong reasons. Shares of Boeing lost 32.1% of their value, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence, as the company faced a combination of continued quality concerns and new uncertainty about demand for its core products.
In recent years, Boeing has taken investors on a ride they would rather forget. The company's flagship 737 MAX was grounded in March 2019 after a pair of fatal accidents. By the time it was returned to service in late 2020, airlines were coping with the impact of the pandemic and more focused on survival than expansion, cutting into new plane demand.
The 737 MAX investigation also led to questions about Boeing's quality control and its relationship with its primary regulator. In the years since the grounding, the company has been forced to take a fresh look at its processes and certifications, and the added scrutiny has led to Boeing halting deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner and a multiyear delay in the company introducing a new version of its 777.
The first half of 2022 led to new concerns for Boeing investors. The war in Ukraine has caused oil prices to spike, limiting the amount of capital airlines have available for new plane purchases. The subsequent inflation, and the Federal Reserve's efforts to fight back against inflation, have investors on edge about a possible U.S. recession. Recessions tend to be bad for airlines and new plane sales because consumers and businesses cut back on large discretionary purchases like airfare.
Boeing is a mess right now, but there is a bull case to be made. For all of its issues Boeing did survive the pandemic, which created the biggest demand shock in aviation history. The 737 MAX is flying again, and the Dreamliner appears nearing the "all clear" to resume deliveries. Long-term demand for travel is expected to grow 2% to 3% annually over the next two decades, which will require a lot of new airplanes.
The question is, how soon until Boeing shares can get airborne again? The company saw its debt grow by more than 400% from the start of the pandemic as management made moves to make sure Boeing would survive the crisis. It needs robust new plane sales, and the cash flow that comes with it, to pay down the added debt and begin to normalize operations.
Given the uncertainty about what lies ahead for commercial aviation, and Boeing's recent bad habit of repeatedly shocking investors with more bad news, Wall Street seemingly has taken a "wait and see" approach to Boeing shares right now.