No average person, including myself, has any business buying and selling individual stocks. Bad idea.
But for those who cannot help themselves — me included — let’s talk about whether anyone should buy Boeing stock.
The aircraft maker’s shares have been pummeled since the March 10 crash of one of its most profitable lines, the 737 Max 8. It was the second crash of a 737 in less than five months.
Investors started selling Monday morning after the Ethiopian Airlines flight killed all 157 on board.
The stock dropped nearly 13 percent in trading since the crash. That’s a lot, when you consider that a 1 percent daily stock bump up or down can be newsworthy.
Thanks in no small part to the 737, Boeing has been one of the winners of the 10-year-old bull market. Shares are up more than 1,000 percent — a Buffett-like 28 percent annual return — compared with a 315 percent increase of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, according to Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indices.
“It’s been a huge success story,” Silverblatt said.
Revenue is up. Profits are up. There’s a mountain of orders for the 737 Max that could keep Boeing busy making airplanes probably the rest of my lifetime.
But then there’s the Indonesian and Ethiopian tragedies.
The company has taken a reputational hit and will surely receive an as-yet undetermined financial hit.
I puzzled my way through the onslaught of bad news this week to answer my own questions over whether Boeing was a good company whose stock was on sale or one that was headed for a prolonged slide.
(I am not a stock analyst. I have owned shares in about a dozen companies for the past 25 years or so because I wanted to educate myself about the stock market and how business works. I thought having some money on the table would motivate me to pay closer attention. I am ahead but by no means an expert.)
The first thing was to decide whether Boeing is playing everything straight. My bet is that Boeing is an honest company that tries to do right. To do otherwise would mean self-destruction.
Lawyers, whistleblowers (Boeing has more than 150,000 employees), Congress, the Justice Department, the Federal Aviation Administration — not to mention airlines and overseas governments — would be down its throat at a hint of deception.
“This is a very highly regulated industry,” said Raul Fernandez, a Washington investor and vice chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, who bought Boeing shares Monday after they declined following the Ethiopian crash. “These products go through a ton of testing. This is tragic, but whatever caused this, man-made error, training or a design flaw, it will get addressed.”
There’s also the issue of, “Where else are airlines going to get airplanes?”
Boeing is one of two companies in the world — Airbus is the other — that build large, highly complex, long-distance commercial passenger aircraft. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Boeing aircraft constitute about 43 percent of 7,309 aircraft in the U.S. commercial inventory.
“It’s not like there’s another competitor on the horizon who can come in and take their market share,” Fernandez said. “This is an incredibly complex industry and difficult for a new company to enter.”
If you want to buy a big passenger jet, you will buy it either from 100-year-old Boeing or Airbus.
“I tell people when they become aerospace investors for the first time that a reliable way for an investor to make money is to bet that airplane makers know how to make airplanes,” said Carter Copeland, an analyst with Melius Research. Copeland said it’s really hard for a competitor to break into the large, commercial passenger market.
So Boeing knows how to make airplanes, and I haven’t seen any evidence that they are liars.
So the question for me is, “What happened in Ethiopia and Indonesia, and is Boeing still a good business?”
It is if they fix any design flaws and if passengers will board a 737 Max 8.
The company has a strong balance sheet and about $8 billion in cash. It will need it.
“Boeing will have to put a lot of resources into this,” said Phil Seymour, chief executive of aviation consulting firm IBA Group. “This will be costly. But I don’t see a long-term issue.”
Copeland has scratched out some of the math in his head, based on replacement aircraft (Norway is already demanding compensatory damages for lost use because of the grounding), lawsuits and the cost of fixing any flaws. He arrived at a number of about $1 billion. That was before the FAA and President Trump grounded the 737 Max on Wednesday.
The company depends on this aircraft. The 737 Max accounts for 29 percent of Boeing’s revenue, or about $32 billion of the $110 billion in revenue the company is expected to generate this year.
As of January, Boeing had 4,661 orders for the 737 Max in its backlog, according to a research note published this week from Jefferies investment bank. Boeing needs to get this fixed, and fixed fast and persuasively.
That backlog makes me think there are years and years of healthy revenue on the way. That works in the stock’s favor.
That’s where what analysts call “headline risk” comes in.
Those are the daily news reports that so-and-so said the plane is unsafe. Or so-and-so country is banning the 737 from its skies. The planes have been grounded. Orders might be canceled.
Then the headline risk can be your friend, if you believe in the business. Remember what Warren Buffett once said: “Be greedy when others are fearful.”
“These tend to be buying opportunities, is the bottom line,” said Sheila Kahyaoglu, aerospace and defense analyst at Jefferies who has a “buy” on Boeing shares. “You will see some headline risk continue for some time.”
Copeland, of Melius Research, said that “fear takes over.”
“For investors, when we get into these situations, your mind goes to imagining the worst possible scenario,” Copeland said. “It’s nearly impossible to refute the things that people imagine.”
But history suggests that those who hold on for the long term will be vindicated.
Not to minimize the tragedy of more than 300 lives lost, but history shows that manufacturers, including Boeing, can survive design flaws, accidents and even fatal crashes.
Remember the accident-plagued McDonnell Douglas DC-10? There is one memorable photo of one of the wide-body aircraft rolling over and crashing after a Chicago takeoff, killing everyone on board.
The DC-10 was grounded for a time while a design flaw was fixed. The aircraft lived on, for a while, at least (I remember flying on one in the 1980s) and is still in use today as a freighter. McDonnell -Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997.
There was also the FAA’s grounding in 2013 of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which was forced to address malfunctions in its lithium-ion batteries. Boeing stock rose 81 percent in 2013 and has risen another 172 percent since the end of that year, Silverblatt said.
There have been more than 10,000 Boeing 737s built in the plane’s lifetime, dating to its first flight in 1967. There are still about 7,400 flying around the globe. It is the best-selling commercial aircraft in history.
Unless something spooky comes out in the next few weeks, Boeing stock might be a safe ride, but expect turbulence.