Google is hiring 25% more workers. US Airways and United Continental reported boffo earnings beats. Good news abounds on the markets, yet somehow the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained only six one-hundredths of one percentage point yesterday. Want to guess who got the blame for hamstringing the rally?
You got it: Boeing
Shares of the aerospace titan shed more than 3% yesterday in the wake of an anemic earnings release that sent financial writers scrambling to find appropriate cliches in Roget's. Boeing got its "wings clipped." Boeing's plane sales were "grounded." The company's encountering "turbulence." You know the drill. Yet despite all the wailing and lamentation on Wall Street, I'm actually optimistic about Boeing this year.
Bad news bulls
I mean, yes, the news was bad. Boeing saw revenues slip 8% in Q4 2010 as plane deliveries declined. Earnings were also down at just $1.56 per share. Even Boeing's forecast for the current year -- $3.80 per share at minimum, $4 per share max -- fell short of analyst expectations. So what's there to be optimistic about?
Well, for one thing, investors weren't acting really rational yesterday. Within the aerospace sphere in particular, Textron
For another, I just don't share the pessimism about Boeing's future. I think the bad news is already baked into the stock price. After the earnings report and after new guidance, analysts now say Boeing will grow its earnings at about 9% per year for the next five years. That's not a lot to support today's 15 times P/E ratio. There's also the fact that Boeing's free cash flow dropped by more than half, to just $1.8 billion, in 2010. And there's the likely fact that free cash flow this year will fall even further, to just $200 million.
Foolish final thought
But at least that's still a positive number -- and Boeing could hit it with little help from its 787 Dreamliner program, which isn't scheduled to begin deliveries until July 2011. Deliveries won't begin truly hitting their stride until next year, which, coincidentally, will be about the same time Boeing really starts to ramp its 737 production.
Long story short, yes, the 2010 numbers were bad. Yes, 2011's numbers will probably be worse. But in a forward-looking market, I think the real story this year -- and the real driver of Boeing's stock price -- will be the promises Boeing makes about next year.
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