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NEW YORK, Jan 30 AFP

January 31 2013, 00:58AM

US aerospace giant Boeing reported a sharp fourth quarter fall in earnings as expected on Wednesday, as tax costs surged from a year earlier but operating earnings gained on strong sales growth.

Meanwhile, the company's chief executive said the company was focused on solving the battery problem that grounded its newest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner, worldwide.

"Our first order of business for 2013 is to resolve the battery issue on the 787 and return the airplanes safely to service with our customers," said Boeing chairman and CEO Jim McNerney.

Net earnings for the quarter came in at $US978 million ($A939.35 million), compared to $1.39 billion a year earlier, when earnings were buoyed by a favourable one-off tax settlement.

But sales jumped 16.7 per cent to $19.79 billion, and net earnings before tax gained 6.3 per cent to $1.54 billion from the year-earlier quarter.

Earnings per share came in at $1.28 compared to $1.84 a year earlier; "core" earnings per share, after the tax gain of a year earlier is stripped out, were $1.46, well above analysts' forecasts.

For the full year Boeing net earnings came in at $3.9 billion, down from $4.0 billion in 2011. While total revenues grew nearly $13 billion to $81.7 billion, operating and production costs rose faster, keeping net gains flat.

But core earnings per share were $5.88, better than the $5.01 analysts had predicted.

The company said that after delivering more than 600 aircraft last year, it had a record backlog of orders worth $390 billion going into 2013, both for civilian aircraft and in the defence and security sector.

"We remain focused on our ongoing priorities of profitable ramp up in commercial aeroplane production, successful execution of our development programs, and continued growth in core, adjacent and international defence and space markets," said McNerney.

The company still faces the challenge of the 787 grounding after two planes were hit by still-mysterious battery problems, one a fire. That has forced the company to halt deliveries of the aircraft, though production continues at a five-unit a month pace.

Boeing nevertheless forecast revenues in 2013 to grow slightly to $82-85 billion, leaving basic earnings per share in the range of $5.01-5.20. But it said that core earnings per share should improve to $6.10-6.30.