Thursday, January 12, 2017

Boeing's Financial Backlog Shrinkage

A little publicized topic in the financial press world is how much has the built value shrunk or increased? In Boeing's case it’s on a slide using the Book to Bill measures for determining the future health of its backlog versus the production pace. Billing or the delivered aircraft is the economic engine driving long range aspiration for any company.

The booking factor is the level of fuel in its tank for the journey. Currently Boeing delivered 115 billion in aircraft during 2016 and booked about 92-94 billion at list prices. Thus sinking the backlog by another 11 billion dollars at list prices for both orders and delivery.

Fortunately for investors the airplane industry is known for cyclic surges for booking and billings where deliveries are more constant than orders. When Boeing maintains a production and delivery pace of about 748 aircraft it must sell about 748 aircraft for backlog replacement in both number and value. This year it shrunk numerically the backlog by 80 units’ over-all. It can be a healthy numerical reduction but it could also indicate it has a thin margin for production goals from having too small of a backlog. The question is, what is the optimal backlog for an industry for assuring financial success?

At this time, Airbus has increased its single aisle backlog beyond a reasonable production capability for its division. It also has a finite duo aisle production future having a static wide bodied order book. Boeing on the other hand is rapidly reducing its backlog while generating cash from its production surge. In time Boeing will need big ticket orders in number and value recovering its lost backlog. The Boeing strategy is two-fold. Give the customer’s timely deliveries and they will order more. Secondly, inflow the cash for building an array of new aircraft for which the customer will again order more. Once again orders are the fuel for the delivery engine and Boeing is running at half tank. 

Airbus has a full tank and sluggish A350 delivery engine. It becomes complicated sorting out whose correct in this situation. Having too little or too much backlog. A smaller backlog reduces production and reduces cash inflows. An over abundant backlog becomes a customer concentric inefficiency and indicates lost financial opportunity for Airbus. 

Somewhere in the middle of all this is the optimal position for any manufacturer’s backlog and production capability. Boeing has run its backlog to optimal without having a strong forecast for orders but this can all change with orders from one airshow.

This is an opinion and does not suggest investment advice for either mega builder of aircraft. The main thing is that both builders find themselves wrestling with different problems before reaching a condition of having the perfect backlog stream of inflows and outflows in a very inconsistent booking market.  The only thing certain is the capability for delivering aircraft at a constant rate. Airbus is struggling but recovering with its production rates as its backlog grows beyond a customer's liking.