Boeing is studying an equity sale and other ways to ease a debt burden that has soared to $61 billion this year amid the worst slump in aviation history.
Adding to the financial stress, Boeing will trim output of its 787 Dreamliner to five planes a month by mid-2021, one less than previously planned, Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith said Friday. Boeing didn’t deliver any of the marquee wide-body jets last month and December shipments will be slow as the company inspects each aircraft for manufacturing flaws, Smith said.
Lower Dreamliner output and the potential need to sell stock underscore the pressure on Boeing even as the company’s best-selling jetliner, the 737 Max, emerges from a 20-month grounding. The planemaker took on more than $30 billion in debt earlier this year to shore up liquidity as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, gutting demand for air travel and new aircraft.
“When it comes to capital deployment, it will be all about paying down that debt,” Smith said at a Credit Suisse Group AG conference. “We’ll continue to invest in the business, but we’ve got to get this debt balance down. And we’ll look at every opportunity to do that in the most efficient way, including equity.”
The Chicago-based company has sufficient reserves to see it through months of tumult until coronavirus vaccines are widely distributed, Smith said. And Boeing is laying plans for its response if the post-pandemic recovery unleashes pent-up demand, as predicted by Ryanair Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary as his airline ordered 75 Max jets Thursday.
Boeing is already prepared to speed up deliveries of the 450 Max planes that it built but couldn’t deliver during the global grounding, Smith said. The value of the company’s inventory has soared 40%, to $87 billion, since the initial Max accident in October 2018.
“The constraint there won’t be our ability to deliver. It’s the pace and the ability for the customers to take them,” Smith said. “So we can turn that up pretty significantly, and we’re resourced, and the teams are trained and ready to do that.”
Demand for the 787 has been particularly hard hit, with international travel down 90% from a year ago. Boeing has repeatedly slowed work on the Dreamliner from the record 14-jet monthly pace it adopted last year. Inspections and repairs of previously disclosed structural flaws are also hampering deliveries of newly built Dreamliners, Smith said.
As a result, undelivered aircraft are starting to stack up around Boeing’s factories and in a storage lot in the California desert. It will take the planemaker through 2021 to clear them from its inventory, Smith said.
“The upshot is that the recovery is volatile and uneven, especially for international travel,” Citigroup analyst Jon Raviv said in a note to clients. “The financial impact is that cash usage is even worse this year due to very low 787 deliveries.”
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