787 Dreamliner and Cash Flow Could Make Boeing Investors Happy Very Soon

By Markets Fool.com

Boeing (NYSE: BA) shares have been sliding since its first-quarter earnings release on April 22. Though the aircraft manufacturer's profit soared 38% on the back of strong commercial airplane deliveries; a steep decline in cash flow and rising 787 Dreamliner manufacturing costs spoiled investors' moods.

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Will these factors affect Boeing's fiscal year performance, too? Maybe not. Here's why.

Dreamliner nearing breakeven
Boeing dispatched 184 commercial planes in the first quarter, up 14% from last year's same period. Of the 184 deliveries, 121 were 737s, followed by 30 787s. The 787 Dreamliner deliveries have stabilized in the past couple of years, and the aircraft has been Boeing's second-best-selling plane in the last four quarters.

However, that's coming at a cost, as Boeing sells the 787 below what it costs the company to make it. The higher the number of Dreamliner deliveries, the greater the cash burn.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Source: Boeing.

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That's not going to continue for long. The Dreamliner may be selling at a loss, but the gap is narrowing every quarter. The aircraft's deferred cost mounted by $793 million, and stood at $27 billion at the quarter's end, which implies that Boeing drained approximately $26 million per Dreamliner in the period. That compares with $32 million lost per plane in the preceding fourth quarter.

Boeing is quite confident of the aircraft's recovery plan. It's delivered more than 250 Dreamliners, and has been successful in bringing down its cost by 30% compared with what it spent making the initial 50 units.

The improving efficiency has helped Boeing cut 25% of the cost per plane for the first 20 787-9 deliveries. And in the year, around half of the 787 deliveries are expected to be that of the high-margin 787-9. Boeing CFO Greg Smith said that deferred cost would continue to rise until the last quarter, when the Dreamliner is expected to turn "cash positive."

Cash flow to improve
Boeing's cash flow has always been in the spotlight. A 92% drop in operating cash flow, to $88 million, was a big turnoff for investors, and sent shares down. In the preceding fourth quarter, the very same cash flow, soaring 262%, had sent company shares up.

According to Boeing, the "timing of receipt and expenditure" and higher Dreamliner deliveries led to the poor cash performance.

With deferred production cost per plane expected to decline in the second and third quarters, and the Dreamliner likely to turn cash positive in the last quarter of 2015, cash flow could get better as the year progresses. The company's free cash flow came in at negative $468 million compared with an inflow of $615 million in the year-ago quarter.

Despite the steep plunge in operating cash, Boeing has reaffirmed its 2015 operating cash flow guidance of $9 billion plus. The aero major is generally conservative with its guidance. The fact that the cash guidance remains unchanged suggests that the company expects solid cash generation in the upcoming quarters.

It wasn't a great quarter for Boeing, but it did show the company trending toward its goal. The numbers that troubled investors the most could improve during the coming quarters. Boeing appears to be on track to post a good year.

The article 787 Dreamliner and Cash Flow Could Make Boeing Investors Happy Very Soon originally appeared on Fool.com.

ICRA Onlineand Eshna Basu have no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.