Over the past week, the twin titans of international airplane-building, Airbus and Boeing (NYSE:BA), updated investors on their final order counts for calendar year 2015. Unfortunately for Boeing investors, despite a mighty last-minute sales push by their company, Boeing ultimately came up short.
We won't keep you in suspense. Here are the final numbers, as reported by the respective companies:
Boeing's final sales week of 2015 featured 35 new plane orders, including one Boeing 737 ordered by "Business Jet/VIP Customer(s)" and "Unidentified Customer(s)" buying 32 single-aisle 737s and two widebody 787s. Ten plane cancellations were recorded in the year's last week, leaving Boeing's tally for the year at:
- 666 "gross" orders for single-aisle 737s
- 99 Dreamliner 787s
- 58 widebody 777s
- 49 Boeing 767s
- and six 747s
That works out to 878 gross orders for Boeing planes. Minus 110 cancellations racked up over the course of the year, net plane orders touched down at: 768 planes.
Boeing actually outsold Airbus in December, recording a staggering 223 plane orders for the month -- 29% of all planes Boeing sold last year. In contrast, Airbus reports that it booked "only" 60 new orders in December. Regardless, the huge lead Airbus had built up over the preceding 11 months left Airbus with a comfortable margin of victory -- and its third straight sales crown as the biggest airplane seller in the world.
Airbus's 2015 sales tally reads like this:
- 966 gross orders for single-aisle "A320 Family" jets
- 154 widebody A330s
- 16 A350 widebodies
- and three of its massive A380s super-jumbo-jets -- all three sold in the final month of the year to "an unidentified customer"
Airbus also suffered a few order cancellations last year, 103 to be precise. That was still fewer cancellations than Boeing reported, however, and is deducted from a higher sales base. Subtracting 103 cancellations from 1,139 gross orders leaves Airbus with 1,036 "net" new plane orders for 2015.
Translation: Airbus sold 35% more planes than Boeing did last year.
Changing the debate
Whenever Boeing loses to Airbus in an annual "sales race," Boeing backers try to change the subject, arguing that orders aren't important, and that what really matters are deliveries. And there's some merit to that argument. After all, orders are just promises to pay for planes in the future, and those promises can be reneged upon (see "cancellations" above). "Ordered" planes that are never actually bought, never produce cash, profits, or dividends for shareholders.
Simply put, you can't pay the electric bill with "orders."
So before we close today's column, let's make at least a cursory nod in Boeing's direction and acknowledge that although Airbus vastly outsold its rival last year (and in 2014, and in 2013...), in 2015, Boeing did at least deliver more planes than its rival did.
Airbus says it delivered 635 planes to its customers in 2015. Boeing delivered 762. That can only be good news for shareholders. At last report, Boeing was earning profits at the rate of about $5.6 billion per year, and so long as it keeps planes arriving in customer hangers, those profits are going to keep flowing.
What it means to investors
When you get right down to it, as fun as forecasting the annual Boeing-or-Airbus horse race may be for us as spectators, it often boils down to a debate between which company is more marvelous and which is just terrific. At last count, Boeing has 5,795 plane orders unfilled, awaiting delivery, and marked down as "backlogged" work to be done in future years. Airbus has 6,787 plane orders sitting in backlog.
Any way you slice it, both of these companies are going to be building planes, and earning profits, for many, many years to come.