Or, maybe it's... Boeing (NYSE:BA)!

Actually, it depends on how you read the numbers, and which numbers you think are most important. So let's run down the stats quickly.

Boeing's 737 -- making winning look easy. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Deliveries (advantage: Boeing)
For the second year in a row, Boeing thumped Airbus in terms of the number of airplanes delivered to customers. The 648 planes that Boeing flew off to its 85 separate customers in 2013 exceeded the company's 2012 tally by nearly 8%. Boeing beat Airbus's performance (626 planes delivered) by 3.5%.

In one respect, however, Airbus did notch a win. Airbus noted this week that 93 separate customers received Airbus planes in 2013 -- eight more customers than Boeing reached. Given the difficulty (and cost) of convincing a customer to switch from a plane it's already invested in to a new plane, this could prove an advantage to Airbus going forward. Also working in Airbus' favor, 15 of its customers last year were brand-new buyers.

Airbus's A350 -- gaining on Boeing? Source: Wikimedia Commons

Orders (advantage: Airbus)
Airbus won a more decided advantage in the contest to book new orders. In 2013, Airbus clearly won this race, grossing 6% more orders than Boeing, and losing far fewer orders to cancellation. On average, Airbus customers were about one-third less likely to cancel their orders than were Boeing's. As a result, Airbus ended the year with 11% more plane sales booked than its rival.




Gross plane orders in 2013



Customer cancellations



Net orders for the year



Sources: Airbus, Boeing

With so many more orders coming in, Airbus also has piled up a commanding lead in the contest to amass backlog. Airbus says it now has 5,559 aircraft waiting to be built -- a pile of backlogged orders $809 billion tall. In comparison, even Boeing's 5,080-airplane backlog looks a bit light.

And when you consider that Boeing's mainly been winning orders for smaller, less valuable, single-aisle planes, Airbus's advantage in backlog may be even bigger than it appears.

As you can see, so far the arguments are pretty equally weighted, giving partisans of both Boeing and Airbus ample grounds to argue that "their" airplane maker is the biggest. For investors, though, the more important question is which company has the best stock. Given the choice to buy either Boeing or Airbus, which stock should you choose?

On this point, it's not even a close contest. The answer is "Boeing" by a nautical mile. Consider:




Market capitalization

$106.6 billion

$59.4 billion

GAAP earnings

$4.3 billion

$2.1 billion

Free cash flow (or outflow)

$9.0 billion

($955 million)

Dividend yield



Net cash (debt)

$6.3 billion

$1.2 billion

Right off the bat, you can see that Airbus is the more expensive stock at 28 times earnings compared to Boeing's P/E ratio of less than 25. And in fact, Boeing's an even better bargain than it at first appears.

Boeing's dividend is twice as large as Airbus'. Its massive cash war chest is five times as big. Topping it all off, Boeing's significant free cash flow (strongly positive where Airbus is negative, and twice as big as Boeing's own GAAP earnings), all confirm that Boeing is the best bargain.

Analysts see Boeing growing earnings at 12% annually over the next five years. If they're anywhere close to accurate about that, then Boeing stock is selling for a good enough price to buy today. Airbus' is not.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner has had its share of troubles, but continues to soar. Source: Wikimedia Commons