Boeing shares rose 42 cents to close at $70.07 on the New York Stock Exchange after reaching $70.22, their highest price since five years ago.

Share story

CHICAGO — Boeing’s stock price topped $70 a share for the first time in five years Thursday and neared its all-time high, propelled by continuing momentum in both its defense-contracting and commercial-aircraft businesses.

Shares rose 42 cents to close at $70.07 on the New York Stock Exchange after reaching $70.22, their highest price since five years ago this month. The stock’s all-time high was $70.94 during the trading session of Dec. 8, 2000.

Boeing has seen its stock nearly triple since early 2003, the year it was supplanted by Airbus as the world’s leading airplane maker as measured by deliveries.

“The stock is riding the wave of momentum from all the recent commercial-aircraft orders,” said Chris Lozier of Chicago-based Morningstar. “The hiring of McNerney as CEO probably added to that.”

James McNerney joined the company as chairman and chief executive from 3M on July 1, although Boeing’s stock began rebounding two CEOs ago under Phil Condit and surged 23 percent last year under Harry Stonecipher. Both left as a result of ethics scandals.

Boeing has closed the gap on Airbus, thanks in large part to booming sales of its more fuel-efficient 787, which is to enter service in 2008.

While its European rival is on pace to outdeliver it for a third straight year by about 360 planes to 320, Boeing has racked up 805 orders for new planes in 2005 compared with 274 a year ago.

Lozier said Boeing’s fleet has the edge over Airbus’ right now, with the 787 a “disruptive technology” and questions remaining about Airbus’ giant A-380.

But he thinks the battle between the two plane makers will remain a tight one driven by price.

“We do think Boeing is going to take back market share, take the lead in deliveries during the next couple of years,” Lozier said. “If you look out 10 or 15 years, we don’t foresee either one taking more than 60 or 65 percent of market share.”

Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing’s St. Louis-based defense unit, noted operating margins for both divisions this year have shown double-digit percentage increases over 2004.

Albaugh, speaking to analysts in New York, said Boeing’s two new commercial planes in development, the 787 and the bigger version of its 747 jumbo jet, will help the Chicago-based company withstand expected reductions in U.S. military budgets that will affect Boeing’s defense sales.

“It’s been a great ride the last five years — the budgets have been going up about 9 percent compounded annually, and we’ve been able to grow dramatically in our [defense] business,” he said. “But with the hurricane, with the deficit, with the election coming up, the fact that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is costing $100 billion a year … we’re going to see a flattening of the defense budget.”

Albaugh said he’s not concerned about the possibility Boeing might lose out when Congress finally decides on the long-postponed program to replace Air Force tankers.

“I don’t worry about the tanker too much,” he said in response to an analyst’s question.

“It doesn’t provide much revenue at all over the next five years,” he said, “and quite frankly I’m a little skeptical on whether or not we’re ever going to see a tanker program.”