Boeing (BA 1.40%) investors endured a miserable first half of 2022, but the second half of the year is off to a positive start. Shares of Boeing climbed 16.5% in July, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence, as investors celebrated a number of new orders and an earnings report that suggested the worst might finally be behind us.
Boeing has been flying into turbulence for most of the last few years. The company's 737 MAX was grounded after a pair of fatal accidents, leading to intense scrutiny of Boeing's safety culture and its relationship with its regulators. Soon after the grounding, the pandemic struck, leading airlines to scale back growth plans and defer plane orders.
The 737 MAX is flying again, and travel has rebounded, but Boeing shares still lost about one-third of their value in the first half of 2022 due to continued questions about the company's manufacturing processes and a fear that a recession could slow new plane sales.
July brought some relief. Boeing performed well at a key international air show, winning billions of dollars in new orders. Second-quarter results provided some data points that would suggest financials are returning to a stable footing. And late in the month, regulators cleared the company to resume deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner, a plane that had been grounded while the company worked out a way to inspect for and repair cracks in the airframe.
For beaten-down investors, the news flow provided some hope that Boeing has finally bottomed out.
Even if the bottom is in, investors should be aware that the company still has a lot of work to do to get back to pre-pandemic levels. Boeing's total debt ballooned by 400% during the pandemic as the company scrambled to raise cash to make sure it could survive the crisis, and a lack of deliveries in the quarters since have limited free cash flow and the ability to pay down that leverage.
Airlines are recovering, but with continued questions about a recession looming and a shortage of pilots limiting growth, look for carriers to lean heavily on existing equipment for now instead of rushing to get new planes on line.
For Boeing, these are early days of what figures to be a long journey.