The Boeing Co. logo stands on its factory in Sheffield, U.K. (Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg)

Boeing Retains Crown as World’s Largest Planemaker

(Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co. delivered a record 806 commercial aircraft in 2018, edging out Airbus SE to retain the crown as world’s largest planemaker as both manufacturers kept factories churning late into December to overcome earlier supplier shortfalls.

The U.S. industrial titan also revealed a last-minute flurry of aircraft deals, enabling it to sell more jets than it built in 2018. Boeing netted orders for 893 jetliners last year with a list value of $143.7 billion, padding its backlog and easing investor concerns that U.S.-China trade tensions and whipsawing oil prices could soften demand for new planes.

For Boeing and Airbus, aerospace’s dueling duopolists, year-end order and delivery totals provide bragging rights -- and a first hint of the company earnings reports to be announced over the next month. While Boeing fell shy of its target, Airbus met its twice-lowered delivery goal of 800 jets in 2018, according to preliminary results released Tuesday.

“Although Boeing came in a little short of our delivery estimate for the year, we’re talking small numbers,” Robert Stallard, analyst with Vertical Research Partners said in a note to clients. “The weighting of deliveries to the fourth quarter should be positive for cash flow, as should the surge in last minute orders and related deposits.”

Holiday Rush

The tallies face special scrutiny this year since both manufacturers worked through the year-end holidays to overcome shortages of engines and other parts that have slowed shipments of their highly profitable single-aisle jets.

Boeing advanced 3.3 percent to $338.95 at 1:39 p.m. in New York, the biggest gain on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Airbus climbed 3.7 percent to 86.65 euros at the close in Paris as the delivery total gave a boost to incoming Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury, who is pushing to improve production. Airbus’s final results will be published after the market closes Wednesday.

Boeing delivered 69 of its 737 airplanes in December to bring total shipments of the narrow-body family, its largest source of profit, to 580. That was less than the 593 deliveries predicted by George Ferguson, an aerospace analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Wide-Body Boon

While the “modest shortfall” caused Boeing to miss its goal of delivering a total of 810 to 815 jets for the year, the planemaker closed the gap with higher-than-anticipated shipments of two wide-body models, Stallard said. The tally included 10 of the commercially built 767 aircraft, which were handed over to Boeing’s defense division to be converted into KC-46 aerial refuelers for the U.S. Air Force.

The Chicago-based manufacturer landed 218 aircraft orders in December, underscoring the continued strength of the company’s wide-body line-up and robust demand for its 737 Max. Despite the negative publicity from a deadly Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October, Boeing sold 194 of the narrow-body aircraft in December. All but 11 of the jets are bound to undisclosed customers, which are often Chinese carriers.

The planemaker also recorded 24 wide-body aircraft orders for the month, including four new sales for its jumbo 747-8 freighter. The orders will help extend the life of the hump-backed model nicknamed the “Queen of the Skies,” which pioneered a new era of long-range travel when it began flying in 1970.

But Boeing and Airbus will be hard-pressed to extend any sales momentum into 2019 in light of rising interest rates and currency weakness for non-dollar-denominated airlines, Ferguson said.

“It was a great December,” he said in an interview. “As we look to 2019, we don’t see the same.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.