Boeing Profit Falls but Beats Forecasts

Boeing Co. (BA) on Wednesday posted an 84 percent drop in quarterly profit on charges related to two aircraft programs, but it beat forecasts and said it sees stronger growth through 2006.

Boeing, which is battling to regain dominance of the commercial airliner market from Europe's Airbus (search), also forecast 2005 earnings generally in line with the range of Wall Street analysts' estimates.

The Chicago-based maker of commercial and military jets posted a fourth-quarter profit of $186 million, or 23 cents a share, after the charges and a surprise one-off gain, compared with $1.13 billion, or $1.40 per share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose to $13.31 billion from $13.16 billion.

Wall Street's average earnings forecast was 4 cents a share on revenue of $12.78 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

"The results are slightly better than expected," said Susan Donofrio, an analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners. "It appears to be due to the tax credit and a few more aircraft delivered than expected." Excluding the tax credit, earnings per share would have been 11 cents.

Boeing shares were up 1.9 percent at $51.99 in premarket trading on the Inet electronic brokerage system.

As expected, Boeing took charges of 44 cents per share in the quarter for the planned shutdown of its 717 short-haul airliner program and the cancellation of a U.S. Air Force order for aerial refueling tankers.

But it also reaped a 12-cent per share benefit related to state tax settlements.

Looking forward, Boeing raised the lower end of its earnings per share forecast to $2.40 from a previous $2.35, while keeping the top of the forecast range unchanged at $2.60, up from $2.30 in 2004.

For 2006, Boeing forecast earnings of $3.00 to $3.20 per share.

The forecasts are in the range of Wall Street's average estimate for 2005 of $2.56 and $3.06 for 2006.

Boeing sees revenue rising to about $58 billion in 2005 and $62 billion to $63 billion in 2006 from $52.5 billion in 2004.

The planemaker maintained its forecast for 320 commercial aircraft deliveries this year, up from 285 in 2004, and forecast deliveries would grow to 375-385 planes in 2006.

UBS analyst David Strauss said in a research note the 2006 forecast was "much higher" than his forecast of 340 deliveries. In the fourth quarter, the company said deliveries fell 6 percent, to 67.

Boeing had negative operating margins in the commercial aircraft business of 2.8 percent as a result of the 717 program shutdown and the 767 write-off. But excluding those charges, margins were stronger than expected, said J.B. Groh, an analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co.

"It looks like some of the lean initiatives on the 737 (jet production) line are starting to take hold," he said. "They're down a little from last year but that has a little bit to do with the sales mix."

The top U.S. aircraft maker sold fewer wide-bodied 777 (search) planes, he said. Margins are better on larger jets.