Bombardier fell the most on record after warning of disappointing fourth-quarter sales and revealing that it may exit a joint venture with Airbus that makes the A220 jetliner.
A ramp-up in A220 production will require additional cash investment, pushing back the break-even point and generating lower returns across the lifetime of the project, Bombardier said in a statement Thursday. The value of the A220 joint venture is likely to be diminished and the amount of any writedown will be disclosed with full 2019 results next month, the company said.
Airbus said it would continue funding the A220 program “on its way to break-even.” The European aerospace giant owns a 50.01% stake in the regional jet, with Bombardier retaining 31% and state-backed Investissement Quebec holding some 19%.
The potential end of Bombardier’s involvement in the A220 program is combining with continued woes in the company’s rail business to undermine a once-great name in manufacturing. Walking away from the A220 would close the book on Bombardier’s involvement in an aircraft program in which the company invested more than $6 billion.
Profitability and free cash flow are “significantly lower than previously anticipated,” amounting to a big setback for the company, Fadi Chamoun, an analyst at Bank of Montreal, said in a note to clients. Bombardier’s reassessment of its participation in the A220 program is likely to result in a writedown, he said.
Bombardier plunged 32% Thursday, dragging shares to the lowest level in almost four years.
Bombardier said fourth-quarter sales would be $4.2 billion, trailing the lowest analyst estimate in a survey by Bloomberg.
The results were dragged down in part by new challenges in the company’s rail division. Bombardier said it would take a $350 million accounting charge because of problems in London, Switzerland and Germany.
The timing of milestone payments and the slippage of four business-jet deliveries into the first quarter of 2020 also clipped results late last year, Bombardier said.
Liquidity remains strong, with year-end cash on hand of roughly $2.6 billion, Bombardier said. But the company is considering alternatives to accelerate its deleveraging and strengthen its balance sheet.
“The final step in our turnaround is to de-lever and solve our capital structure,” Chief Executive Officer Alain Bellemare said in the statement. “We are actively pursuing alternatives that would allow us to accelerate our debt paydown.”
The company is scheduled to report full earnings Feb. 13.
The potential end of Bombardier’s involvement in the A220 would cap a retreat that began in 2018 when the company ceded control of the platform to Airbus for no upfront cash. The plane won praise for its fuel-efficient engines, composite wings and larger than usual windows. But the program ran more than two years late and about $2 billion over budget, and Bombardier had trouble finding buyers in an industry dominated by Airbus and Boeing.
The jet added 63 orders in 2019, with 105 currently in service and a backlog of close to 500 planes. Airbus will begin producing the A220 on a second assembly line this year at its factory in Mobile, Alabama.
Bombardier agreed last year to sell a plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that makes wings for the A220. The buyer, Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, is seeking to boost its exposure to Airbus programs after suffering as a supplier to Boeing’s grounded 737 Max.
The Canadian company also agreed to sell its regional-jet program to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.