Boeing shares drift despite Dreamliner drama
The aircraft maker is expected to tell the FAA Friday that it has found a fix for its 787 battery problems.
Boeing (BA), as usual, is making news Friday and its shares are trading around $76.
That has become the norm for the aircraft maker, defense company and Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) component.
Since the start of the year, Boeing has been at the middle of three major news stories -- sequestration, tense labor talks with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, and the Jan. 16 grounding of the 787.
Despite the drama surrounding the three issues, however, shares have traded in a narrow range, between $72.68 and $78.02. Shares closed Thursday at $76.01, up $1.05.
The 787 saga continues Friday as Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, will call on the Federal Aviation Administration, hoping to make the case that a redesign of the 787's battery will ease regulatory concerns and lead to the airplane's return to service in the coming weeks. This news benefited the share price on Thursday. After the visit, investor attention will likely focus on the FAA response.
Boeing's fix includes adding insulation around the lithium-ion battery's individual cells, a more robust battery case made with heat-resistant glass to contain fires, and a venting mechanism for fumes, sources told Bloomberg News.
BB&T Capital Markets analyst Carter Leake said investors probably should not bank on a quick fix. Japanese regulators, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board, are all involved in determining when the 787 can fly again.
"Excluding the negative, but entirely possible scenario of the Japanese regulatory authorities disagreeing with an FAA willingness to allow a 'quick fix,' we have a much larger political dynamic in play that has the NTSB questioning the FAA's original certification of the battery," Leake said, in an interview. "The FAA has no obligation to either wait for, or heed the NTSB's recommendations, but not to do so would, in our opinion, entail political risk that few FAA officials will be willing to take."
Leake is a long-term Boeing optimist, but he downgraded shares to hold from buy on Jan. 7 and to underweight from hold on Jan. 17.
"We have complete confidence that Boeing will ultimately get through this, but given that we have zero visibility as to the timing and cost of any such fix we believe the downside risk outweighs the upside risk," he said.
Meanwhile, UBS analyst David Strauss on Wednesday raised his target price for Boeing to $75 from $72. Strauss, who maintained a neutral rating on the shares, follows 787 developments so intensely that he tracks movements of the specially modified 747s that carry 787 components into Everett, Wash., and Charleston, S.C., where the airplane is assembled, in order "to gauge the pace of shipments from the structural suppliers." In a report, Strauss said the pace is quickening.
While the current rate is five aircraft per month, "we believe the 787 supply chain is proceeding with the planned ramp to 7 per month, ahead of Boeing's rate increase," Strauss wrote. "Even with the FAA review/grounding, we believe it's more likely than not that Boeing continues to build at its planned rate until it's apparent that a fix for the battery issue will require an extended period of time (more than couple of months)."
In another sign of potential progress in returning the 787 to the skies, The Seattle Times reported Thursday that Boeing instructed a small team of top machinists at its Auburn parts plant to begin building new, high-strength containment boxes for the 787 batteries, in order to get the aircraft flying again as soon as April. The first 100 boxes should be ready by March 18, the newspaper said.
But United (UAL) said Thursday that it has eliminated 787 flying from its schedule until after June 5, with one exception -- a planned Denver to Tokyo flight would begin on May 12. The service inauguration had been scheduled for March 31.
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