What happened

Boeing (BA 0.43%) missed analyst expectations for the third quarter due to a series of one-time charges and tepid defense sales. But free cash flow was strong, and commercial aviation appears to be regaining its footing.

Investors couldn't decide what to make of the results. Boeing shares were up 2.4% before falling as much as 4% on a turbulent day of trading.

So what

It has been a difficult few years for Boeing investors, with the stock hit first by issues with the company's 737 MAX and then by the pandemic and its impact on Boeing's airline customers. The 737 MAX is airborne again, and airlines are steadily rebuilding their schedules, but Boeing faces a long recovery from here.

Boeing's most recent quarter reflected both the issues and the promise. The company lost $6.18 per share on revenue of $16 billion, underperforming analyst expectations for a $0.02 per share profit on revenue of $17.86 billion. There were nearly $3 billion worth of one-time charges driving the discrepancy, mostly from fixed-price defense programs.

Boeing's defense business saw revenue fall 20% to $5.3 billion, recording a $2.8 billion loss from operations due to the charges as well as supply chain costs. Commercial posted a 32% increase in deliveries year over year and a 40% increase in revenue, but a negative 10.3% operating margin.

Free cash flow was a big positive at $3.2 billion, easily beating analyst expectations and reversing a free cash flow drain in the same three months of 2021. Boeing also reiterated its full-year free cash flow guidance, and said it expects commercial delivery trends to improve from here.

Now what

This was very much a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty quarter, and the choppy trading in Boeing's stock that followed reflects the uncertainty of Boeing right now. The company appears to be on the mend, but likely faces a slow climb from here and with the economic outlook uncertain could face further headwinds.

Boeing got a post-earnings boost when Alaska Air Group exercised an option for 52 additional 737 MAX aircraft, but Boeing execs on the call with investors said they expect supply chain challenges to carry into 2023. Overall, Boeing has a total backlog of more than 4,300 commercial airplanes.

So, although the downside appears limited from here, there isn't much of a catalyst right now to get investors excited about buying Boeing shares. Wednesday's trading appears to reflect that ambivalence.