Boeing Lost $4.3 Billion Last Quarter But Its Scandal-Ridden 737 Max Has Finally Turned the Corner

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When one door closes, another one opens. That’s the famous optimist’s mantra. But in Boeing’s case, unfortunately the door that opened needs fixing.

The world’s second-largest aerospace company announced Wednesday that it has moved past issues that dogged its high profile 737 Max aircraft, and generated positive cash flow for the first time in three years during the fourth quarter. On the other hand, the financial fallout from production flaws in fuselage doors on one of its best-selling planes, the 787 Dreamliner, has gotten a lot worse. Oh, and it’s still losing billions.

The Comeback Skid

Boeing is coming off what CEO Dave Calhoun called a “rebuilding year” — aircraft sales bounced back after the 737 Max airliner was grounded following multiple crashes and the pandemic wiped most air travel off the map.

In 2021, Boeing delivered 340 planes, or almost double its 2020 total. A great improvement, although somewhat overshadowed by the fact that it got its clock cleaned by chief rival Airbus, which delivered 611 planes last year and bested Boeing for the third year in a row. So company’s comeback narrative has some solid threads, and also leaves a lot to be desired:

  • Boeing’s cash flow — basically, the net amount of money transferred in and out of a company and an important metric for investors — was $494 million in the fourth quarter, a huge improvement from a $4.3 billion outflow in the same quarter last year and positive for the first time in nearly three years.
  • Boeing still managed to post a loss of $4.16 billion in the fourth quarter, in large part because of billions in charges for delays to its 787 Dreamliner, which it hasn’t been able to deliver to airline customers on time because of structural issues at production.

Out of the Woods, Into the Clouds: If Boeing were to adopt another optimist mantra, seeing things glass half full, it would be wise to look past a $3.5 billion charge for 787 delays, and instead look at its previously beleaguered aircraft: after coming to a complete halt, the production volume of the 737 Max has increased to 26 a month, and Boeing expects to deliver 500 this year.