NEW YORK – Boeing Co.'s (BA) commercial plane orders more than tripled to a record 1,002 for 2005 on demand from Asia and the Middle East but the planemaker's shares fell on Thursday as a broker downgraded the stock, warning of limited upside.
The net order total, skyrocketing from 272 last year, makes Boeing a favorite to reclaim the lead in orders from European archrival Airbus for the first time since 2001 and solidifies its turnaround from a weak 2004 marred by scandal.
The total also broke the record set in 1988 for 877 net orders from Boeing and McDonnell Douglas combined. Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas in 1997.
"Clearly, 2005 was an incredible year for our customers and for Boeing," said Alan Mulally, chief executive of Boeing's commercial aircraft unit, in a statement.
The Boeing order total is 55 percent more than the combined total for Airbus and Boeing in 2004. Both commercial planemakers benefited this year from expansion by low cost airlines from India to Brazil, as well as appetite for new planes like Boeing's composite 787 Dreamliner.
Boeing won 235 orders for the widebody Dreamliner, slated to enter into service in 2008, 154 orders for the larger 777 and 569 for the single-aisle 737, a workhorse for discounters like Ryanair and Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV).
But Bank of America, which downgraded Boeing's stock to "neutral" from "buy," warned that "orders could halve in 2006 as Europe and the U.S. remain slow to recover."
Boeing itself has said it expects to see a dip in orders this year.
The United States, once Boeing's stronghold, has been a particularly weak market in recent years as once robust Boeing customers like AMR Corp.'s (AMR) American Airlines have pulled back on orders as they seek to resolve financial woes.
Bank of America also said it was concerned that Boeing's supply chain could be stretched as it ramps up production by 36 percent to a forecast 395 airplanes.
Boeing shares, were down $1.44, or 2 percent, at $69.70 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock is still up 37 percent over the past 12 months, making it one of the top performers in the aerospace sector, which itself has risen 3.5 percent in the same period.
The 2005 share rally and order boom helped Boeing close the door on a period in which its reputation was tarnished by a Pentagon corruption scandal and also saw the newly-launched 787 lag Boeing's initial sales forecasts.
Boeing did not say how many planes it delivered to airlines in 2005. The Chicago-based aerospace company will almost certainly lag Airbus in deliveries this year, though Boeing officials have said they hope the strong orders will eventually allow it to take the lead in deliveries as well.
Airbus had 687 orders through the end of November, but it booked several orders in December and held out the hope of besting Boeing as recently as early December.
An Airbus spokeswoman said the company controlled by France's EADS would make no comment on the Boeing numbers until Airbus releases its 2005 order totals on Jan. 17.