Boeing (NYSE:BA) is one of the world's only two manufacturers of large commercial jets, along with Europe's Airbus. Commercial jets represent a valuable and fast-growing market, and one that Boeing has made important investments to capture. Boeing believes that spending over a decade and more than $30 billion in research and development for the sleek, modern 787 Dreamliner jet plane has positioned it to capitalize on the future of air travel.
However, for investors to realize that potential, Boeing will have to successfully navigate a number of risks. Today, you can find out more about some of the risks facing Boeing with a sneak peak of The Motley Fool's premium research report on Boeing. In the full report, you'll find out whether Boeing is a buy or a sell with our research and analysis on the risks and opportunities facing Boeing, as well as a three key areas to watch that are critical to Boeing's long-term success and more.
Litigation: Boeing's rivalry with Airbus includes a long history of lawsuits and countersuits. The two companies compete for defense contracts, and have no compunction about suing to reverse the loss of a contract. Boeing's strong ties and lobbying connections to the American government usually give it the upper hand in these contests, but also subject the company to another kind of legal risk.
Airbus alleges that the research and development support that Boeing receives from NASA and the Department of Defense constitutes illegal subsidies under World Trade Organization rules. In 2011, the WTO agreed, finding that Boeing must repay $5.3 billion in subsidies to the American government, compared to 2011 net income of $4 billion. The U.S. has demurred, the EU threatened $12 billion in annual trade sanctions, and negotiations are ongoing. Boeing potentially could be required to repay over $7.2 billion. A bad outcome for Boeing in the legal dispute could eat into profitability for years.
Increasing development costs: As jet planes have gotten more complex, they've inevitably gotten more expensive to produce. At the 787 Dreamliner's launch, Boeing estimated that it would need to sell 1,100 of the aircraft in order to break even on the cost of building them, a milestone Boeing expected to achieve some time next decade. Even that estimate is based on the idea that Boeing will bring down per-vehicle-production costs rapidly around 2015, after undergoing a learning curve. However, due to Boeing's globalized manufacturing process outsourced to independent suppliers, the company isn't really in control of production costs. It must pay its suppliers for subassemblies, or try to find these exactingly specific subassemblies elsewhere.
Of course, that's just the cost of production. Accounting for research and the cost of acquiring new production capacity in South Carolina, it's not obvious that the 787 will ever be a net cash positive for Boeing. These development costs are sunk, and shouldn't affect a decision to invest in Boeing today, except as a cautionary tale. Boeing and its shareholders obviously cannot afford for the company continually to spend more money on projects than it takes in.
Transparency: Boeing uses program accounting, an unusual practice that allows the firm to take the upfront development costs of a project and spread them across a block of future deliveries. This gives the company significant flexibility in determining how to report costs. In 1997 Boeing was accused of using this lack of transparency to mask massive cost overruns and production problems in order to prop up its share price during its acquisition of McDonnell Douglas. The company settled a securities fraud suit for nearly $100 million and reformed some of its accounting practices, but Boeing's books remain harder to read than most. Investors therefore need more trust in leadership at Boeing than at companies which use more standard accounting practices.
We hope you enjoyed this sample of our new premium research report on Boeing, which also includes a breakdown of the most important areas investors need to watch, an analysis of the risks facing Boeing, and three key reasons to buy or sell the stock. To gain access to the complete report and a full year of analyst updates, click here and keep reading today.
Fool contributor Daniel Ferry and The Motley Fool have no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.