Buckingham lowers Boeing to Underperform (sell), others increasingly bearish

Update: 24/7 Wall Street just published this gloomy outlook about Boeing.

Buckingham Research Group today lowered its call on The Boeing Co. from Neutral to Underperform, the equivalent of Hold to Sell. As far as we can tell, this is the first research analyst to put a sell on Boeing in recent years.

According to Thompson/First Call, 10 analysts rate Boeing as a Strong Buy, nine as a Buy and seven as a Hold. None rated Boeing as an Underperform or a Sell (Thompson separates the two ratings; Buckingham’s Underperform is a Sell). According to Thompson/First Call tallies on Yahoo Finance, there hasn’t been a downgrade to sell since 2008, when the 787 program problems were ramping up.

Buckingham has become increasingly pessimistic in recent months about Boeing, so the new rating isn’t necessarily a surprise, and Buckingham isn’t alone. Bank of America Merrill Lynch recently downgraded Boeing to Neutral and in June RBC Capital Markets downgraded Boeing to Sector Perform from Outperform. Wells Fargo and Credit Suisse analysts have been raising concerns in recent notes but haven’t downgraded Boeing, and UBS has been bearish for some time.

Buckingham cited anticipated worsening free cash flow as its principal reason for the downgrade, driven by BRG’s forecast of lower 777 production rates and higher than Boeing’s forecasted $25bn in deferred production costs for the 787. BRG also cited about 1,500 737s not yet added to the accounting block it believes have been sold at steeper discounts than historically.

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What order bubble?

Following the Farnborough Air Show last month, media and some aerospace analysts once again began asking the question: is the order bubble done?

We retort by saying, “What order bubble?”

We have been hearing since 2008 if the order bubble was about to burst. We’ve been asked this question many, many times. The trouble in answering this question is that nobody truly defines what they mean by “order bubble” when they ask if the bubble is about to burst.

Do people mean:

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Odds and Ends: Boeing discounting; A380 analysis; A320neo LEAP

Boeing discounting: Although Boeing alternately acknowledges it’s under price pressure from Airbus or it’s maintaining pricing on its aircraft, UBS aerospace analyst David Strauss concludes that discounting is increasing on the 737 and 777 but is somewhat better on the 787.

Strauss writes in an August 6 note that discounting on the 737 is around 59%. The 777 is now discounted at about 54% and the 787 trails at 46%. (He doesn’t bother with the 747-8.) These are for in-production models.

Strauss concludes that 737 discounting increased since the introduction of the MAX in 2011.

Current list pricing for the 737 is $78.3m for the -700, 93.3m for the -800 and $99m for the -900. The MAX list prices are $87.7m, $106.9m and $113.3m.

The list prices for the 777 are $269.5m for the -200ER, $305m for the -200LR, $330m for the -300ER and $309.7m for the -200LRF. The -8X comes in at $360.5m and the -9X at $388.7m.

The 787-8 lists for $218.3m, the -9 for $257.1m and the -10 for $297.5m.

We are hearing, however, of special cases in which the 787-9 runs for $135m or significantly less and the 787-8 for as low as $115m. We also hear of the 777-300ER being offered for as little as $128m in special circumstances. The calculated discounts UBS mentions for 737 fall within the pricing range that we hear in the market. Strauss writes that some discounts to list reached 65%, also within the range of what we have heard.

The discounting becomes increasingly important because Airbus says it can price the A330ceo and neo sharply below the 787, up to 25% less. Boeing has far less flexibility to discount the 787 than with the 737NG and 777 Classic. The former still isn’t making money while the latter have amortized production lines–just as the A330ceo line is fully paid for. Airbus has offered the A330ceo at steeper discounts to list than Boeing offers the 787, and the forthcoming neo will also see steeper discounts than the 787–unless Boeing becomes more aggressive in that pricing, which will only increase the time to profitability.

A380 analysis: Here is a good, detailed analysis about the Airbus A380 and its position in the marketplace.

A320neo LEAP: CFM’s LEAP-1A, for the Airbus A320neo, has entered production. Aviation Week has this article with the details.

Half time 2014 for Boeing and Airbus

The major OEM’s have published their half time 2014 results and we can make an analysis of their half year results together with orders / deliveries and the state of their product lines. We compare Boeing and Airbus on the high end and in a follow up article Embraer and Bombardier on the low end. To make orders and deliveries comparable we include the month of July as the OEMs collected business to be announced at Farnborough mid July.

Boeing had a strong first half 2014. Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) business is now past the initial problems on the 787 program and delivered 48 units January to June 2014 (8 per month) which is the same numbers as for the 777 program. The 737 is now at rate 40 per month with a first half total of 239 deliveries. The 747-8 is at rate 1 with only 6 deliveries and the 767 has stopped as a commercial program with only 1 delivery during the first half year. The commercial deliveries of 342 aircraft drove a 4% increase in company overall revenue and a 5% increase in earnings compared to first half 2013 (both non-GAAP i.e. the core business performance), this despite a Defense, Space and Security side which was down 5% on revenue and down 15% on earnings.

777-9X, 787-9 and 777-300ER in ANA colours

777-9X, 787-9 and 777-300ER in ANA colors

The troubled unit is Boeing Military Aircraft (BMA) which is struggling with its 767 tanker program (KC46A charged BMA with $187 million and BCA with $238 million due to increased development costs) and it is also fighting to not have its major military airplane program, the F18, stop 3 years from now from lack of orders. The military aircraft order drought contrasts with BCA where first half orders was 783 aircraft, mainly 737 but also 777X, where Emirates and Qatar confirmed their orders for 200 777X. Continue reading

Farnborough Air Show, July 14: A330 program analysis after neo launch

It was pretty much the worse-kept secret in advance of the Farnborough Air Show this year: Airbus launched the re-engining of the A330, designating the new engine option the A330-800 (the A330-200 successor) and the A330-900 (the A330-300).

Rolls-Royce, as had been widely reported, becomes the sole-source engine provider of the Trent T7000. Airbus also gave it new A350 style winglets and have made enhancements to the cabin with improved seating, IFE and mood lighting, In total Airbus claims to have improved the fuel consumption with 14% per seat. Deliveries will start in Q4 2017.800x600_1405309967_A330-900neo_RR_AIB_01Rebranding the A330, dropping the -200 and -300 names, and adopting the more modern -800/-900 speaks to the significant upgrade of the airplane. Parenthetically, this also follows the pattern set by Boeing decades ago when it went from the 737-200 to the 300/400/500, then the 700/800/900 and now the 7/8/9. It speaks to adopting new technology and is consistent with the sub-type branding of the A350.

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Boeing sees 4% increase in aircraft demand in next 20 years

Boeing forecasts a demand for 36,770 new airplanes during the next 20 years, an increase of 4.2%, in its Current Market Outlook. The value of this demand, which covers the entire commercial aviation line from regional jets and up, is $5.2 trillion.

The company released its annual forecast today, for the period ending 2033.

As with previous forecasts, the single-aisle demand constitutes the vast majority, with a requirement for 25,680 airplanes to cover retirement and growth, the latter being driven by the proliferation of the low cost carriers worldwide. The “heart of the market” for the single aisles has moved up to 160 seats, says Randy Tinseth, VP Marketing. This is the 737-800/8 and A320ceo/neo-sized airplane. The Comac C919 and Irkut MC-21 will join this sector when they enter service later this decade.

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War of Words between Airbus and Boeing over A330neo, 787

By Leeham Co EU

We’ve seen it for decades: the War of Words between Airbus and Boeing around their competing aircraft. It hasn’t taken long for the WOW to emerge over the prospective A330neo. Only a few months ago, Boeing was muted in its assessment about the NEO and its response. No longer.

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For the 200- to 300-seat segment the WOW warning was raised Sunday at Doha, Qatar, in advance of the IATA Annual General Meeting, and no doubt it will stay aloft until this year’s Farnborough Air Show, where the formal launch of the A330neo is expected (as if anyone is doubting after Sunday).

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The start
As Aviation Week reports from the eve of the IATA AGM, John Leahy, Airbus’ chief operating office-customers, threw down the gauntlet by claiming an A330neo economics would be “unbeatable” and its “cash operating cost would equal 787-9.” Boeings counterpart John Wojick countered “at no price can it compete with the 787-10”.

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Of course, that’s not what Leahy claimed. Comparisons have been between the A330-300 and 787-9, not the 787-10.

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What it is all about
After our New Year’s analysis showed that there was a real case for an A330neo (A330neo prospect gains traction) we spent a further four months on the case, digging deeper and deeper. The result was put in our report The Business Case about the A330neo, a 60-page study which took a deep dive into the economics of the A330neo vs the A330 Classic and the Boeing 787-8/9. We did not examine the neo vs the 787-10 because these are different category airplanes, as Boeing’s Wojick should know full well.

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In an apples-to-apples comparison, we found the A330neo significantly narrows, but does not entirely close, the operating cost gap between the A330 Classic and Boeing’s new airplane. Airbus can close the gap and achieve an advantage, however, if it lowers the price of the A330neo to a level the 787 can‘t give. This is central to Leahy’s argument, which is used for the A330 Classic but achieved only with the most favorable assumptions for the Airbus airplane

To summarize:

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Boeing’s approach in creating the passenger experience

Passenger experience continues to become more and more of a focus for the Original Equipment Manufacturers, who try to create an atmosphere that’s appealing even as airlines cram more and more seats into airplanes to gain revenue in an environment where ancillary fees often mean the difference between profit and loss.

Cabin ambiance for mainline, and especially intercontinental, jets is a battle that hasn’t gotten much attention until the advent of the Boeing 787. The creation of the Boeing 747, of course, provided unprecedented space and ambiance and the “wide-body” was followed quickly by the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011. Creating the wide-body look for the single aisle airplanes followed, with improvements subsequently in overhead bins and the look of the ceiling. But it wasn’t until the 787 that there was a dramatic change in the cabin interior look and feel. Boeing expanded this look to the 747-8 and the 737.

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Odds and Ends: MH370 tracking; Garuda rules out A380, 747-8; last 747-400 flight; E-Jet vs Turbo-props

MH370 tracking: With Britain’s Immarsat and the Air Accident Investigation Board key to determining the general location of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, The London Telegraph has one of the best narratives of of the behind-the-scenes story of how this came about. The London Independent also has a good story. And here is a story that explains the difficulties of searching in remote oceans.

  • Update, 10:30am PDT: Aviation analyst and former pilot John Nance is profiled in this Puget Sound Business Journal account that includes’ Nance’s theory of MH370. It’s an intriguing theory. He believes this was a deliberate act–either terrorism or murder-suicide–and that once the flight settled out southbound from Malaysia, it was set on auto-pilot and all aboard, including the pilot, were killed by asphyxiation. The airplane flew until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean; he even gives a speed and angle-of-attack estimate.

Garuda rules out A380, 747-8: The Australian reports that after planning to order either the Airbus A380 or Boeing 747-8 last year, officials have ruled this out.

Last 747-400 flight: Japan’s All Nippon Airlines plans to complete its last Boeing 747-400 flight this month, ending an iconic era in the country where 747s once ruled the skies.

E-Jet vs Turbo-Props: At the ISTAT conference last week, we reported that Embraer says its E-175 E2 is more efficient than similarly sized turbo props on missions of more than 250 miles. This story in The Economic Times of India follows through on this theme.

Updating the A380: the prospect of a neo version and what’s involved

Recent headlines and this column report that Airbus is considering re-engining the popular A330 with GE Aviation GEnx or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN power plants. A New Engine Option and other changes would improve the A330’s economy by an estimated 10% percent after offsets for increased drag and weight.

But the A330 isn’t the only Airbus airplane being considered for new engines made popular by the A320neo family. Tim Clark, president and chief operating officer of Emirates Airlines, urged Airbus to improve efficiency of the giant A380 with engine technology found in newer generation aircraft.

How feasible is an A380neo? What are the technological issues? Would there be enough of an economic gain? And is there a market for an A380neo?

The A380 of today

The A380 has been hailed as a highly efficient airliner since it went into service 2008, assuming the giant plane can be filled. But only six years later, the first voices have been raised that this will not continue to be the case should the continuous improvements that have been flowing into the airframe not pick up speed.

The launch of the Boeing 777X also brought focus on the state of the A380 come the latter part of this decade when the 777-9X enters flight testing in advance of its planned 2020 entry-into-service. Tim Clark expressed  that “it is time that the A380 gets an injection of the new technology which is now becoming available for the A320/737 in the form of GTF/LEAP and GE9X for the 777X. “

Before we look into what can be done short-to–mid-term to inject improved efficiency, let’s establish the baseline as it exists today. The A380 is considered by some the most efficient way of flying passengers between two long haul points if there is enough of demand. The competition today is the Boeing 777-300ER and 747-8i.  (Qantas Airways is dropping some A380 flights that have 50% load factors, demonstrating the aircraft is inefficient if the demand is insufficient.)

Let’s assume we want to transport passengers between San Francisco and Hong Kong, one of the longer flights which are made non-stop in both directions. Going West, it takes a Cathay 777-300ER 15 hours and going East, 12 hours, the difference being due to prevailing headwinds going West. For our check, we will use the more demanding of these legs, which then works out as the equivalent of flying 7,200nm. To compare the three different aircraft in a fair way, we need to load them to the same payload, in our case passengers with luggage. We will not consider cargo in this initial analysis. The leg chosen is not one which allows much weight for cargo, but cargo certainly belongs to a complete analysis of an airplane and we will point out where it will affect any conclusions.  

When comparing the standard three-class seating numbers between the OEMs, it is clear these are not made to the same standards of comfort. Airbus has admitted that the A380 is too lightly loaded at 525 passengers. The 777-300ER at nine abreast and 365 seats is equipped with a comfortable 18’’ economy class at 32’’ pitch but the business class is modeled with a non-standard 48’’ pitch. The 747-8i at 467 seats is not laid out to any comfort standards comparable to the other two. To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison we have equipped all aircraft with the same three-class cabin with a standard seating consisting of first class at 81’’ pitch, business class at 60’’ pitch and economy class with 32’’ pitch. Seat widths are 37’’, 22’’ and 18’ respectively and the ratios of the different premium seatings vs. economy are kept the same. Here the aircraft are listed with the in-service year and with their respective payload capabilities:

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