THE BOEING COMPANY: A Case Study on Betting it All

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George A. Haloulakos, CFA DBA Spartan Research and Consulting, Core Adjunct Finance Faculty – National University

Co-authored with: Farhang Mossavar-Rahmani, DBA, Professor of Finance – National University

 

Since helping launch the commercial jet aircraft age with its 707 model in the 1950s, the Boeing Company has taken very large risks (some might even say gambles) on developing new generations of wide-body commercial jet aircraft.  This approach has historically been known as a “bet the company strategy.” As each new generation of wide-body jet aircraft has placed enormous financial pressure on Boeing (including, but not limited to up-and-down earnings results, increased debt burden and a cyclical stock price) thereby significantly increasing the risk of corporate financial failure.  Yet despite a few close calls, Boeing has emerged successfully from each cycle, enabling it to maintain industry leadership and generate satisfactory long-term financial returns.  In this paper, as part of our ongoing research on risk-taking behavior we will focus on the 707 model that formed the template for Boeing’s “betting it all” corporate strategy associated with the launch of new generations of wide-body aircraft over the ensuing decades.

Introduction

Now the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing was founded in 1916 by William E. Boeing in Seattle, Washington. The company is composed of multiple business units: Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA); Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS); Engineering, Operations & Technology; Boeing Capital; and Boeing Shared Services Group. As top U.S. exporter, the company supports airlines and U.S. and allied government customers in 150 countries. Boeing’s products and tailored services include commercial and military aircraft, satellites, weapons, electronic and defense systems, launch systems, advanced information and communication systems, and performance-based logistics and training.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Boeing has been the premier manufacturer of commercial jetliners for over 40 years. Today, their main commercial products are the 737, 747, 767 and 777 families of airplanes and the Boeing Business Jet. New product development efforts are focused on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and the 747-8. The company has nearly 12,000 commercial jetliners in service worldwide, which is roughly 75 percent of the world fleet. Through Boeing Commercial Aviation Services, the company provides round-the-clock technical support to help operators maintain airplanes in peak operating condition. Commercial Aviation Services offers a full range of world-class engineering, modification, logistics and information services to its global customer base, which includes the world’s passenger and cargo airlines, as well as maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities.

Capital Investment Decisions

Capital investment decisions at Boeing are unique and—to some degree—risky. For example, in the mid-1950s, despite failing to profit on civilian planes in two decades, Boeing spent $185 million to develop the first American all-jet transport, the 707, despite not having made money in a non-military plane in twenty years, Boeing spent $185 million to develop the 707, the first American all-jet transport.   To put this in context, this capital investment was $36 million or 25% more than Boeing’s total net worth of $149 million in 1956!

 

Table 1

COST OF LAUNCHING THE 707 PROGRAM

 

Financial Category

Amount (US$ millions)

Prototype

16

Engineering & Tooling

100

Plant & Equipment

35

Thrust Reverser & Sound Suppressor

7

Advertising & Sales

4

Flight Test & Research

23

TOTAL

$185 million

 

Boeing’s attitude toward risk can be better understood if we look at the company’s earnings during that time. From 1946-49, Boeing’s average annual net income was less than $1.4 million.   From 1950-53, average net income increased to $12 million as the company benefitted from its military aircraft business, led by its signature B-52 jet bomber.  Since the cost of building a prototype commercial jet aircraft was estimated to be $15 million (versus the eventual/ actual cost of $16 million), Boeing determined it was too great a risk as a stand-alone project.  The numbers implied such a project would put the entire company at grave financial risk.  At that time airlines were reluctant themselves to commit their financial stake entirely on reliance or use of jet aircraft alone.

However, Boeing determined the risk of launching a commercial jet aircraft was worth undertaking given the following additional considerations.  As it turned out, Boeing’s B-52 jet bomber fleet deployment worldwide necessitated demand for a tanker jet-aircraft for refueling purposes. Existing prop aircraft flew too slow and too low for efficient refueling.  Given the aforementioned sharp increase in average net income, Boeing determined that the $15 million+ cost to develop a prototype 707 would be less risky because it would be designed to serve two (instead of one) potentially very large global markets, thereby lowering risk and increasing expected returns.

In 1955, Boeing secured an order for production of 400 military units from the US Air Force for its 707 model, equal to the projected (and eventual) installed base of B-52s for US Strategic Air Command.  With this strong endorsement of the 707 aircraft and burgeoning world travel, commercial airlines started to express interest.  Boeing was able to differentiate itself from both foreign and domestic competitors by maintaining flexibility with its own customers.  Specifically, Boeing was able to widen its cabin space by four inches with minor engineering and tooling costs plus retain the core features incorporated into its military prototype.  This enabled Boeing to have faster time-to-market deliveries and higher absorption rate of fixed overhead for both military-and-commercial aircraft assembly operations.  Total 707 commercial deliveries were 1011 (from 1958-94).

During the 1954-58 cycle in which Boeing invested heavily in the 707, corporate Net Income was stable-to-lower while Total Liabilities increased 2.3 times.  In 1954, Net Income and Total Liabilities, respectively, were $32.4 million and $171.9 million.  By 1958, Net Income was $29.4 million and Total Liabilities were $403.7 million, or Total Liabilities exceed annual Net Income by a factor of 13.7.  By comparison, during1950-53, average Total Liabilities exceeded average annual Net Income by a factor of 12.

Stock Price

Investors initially responded positively to the new project. The Company’s stock price reached a high of $79.63 in 1955 and then fluctuated for the next three years going down to $36.62 in 1957 and then up to $45.62 the following year.

In sum, Boeing did “risk the company,” as measured by the cost to develop the program ($185 million) versus its net worth ($149 million) with the prototype exceeding its average annual Net Income ($16 million versus $12 million) over the same period.  But this risk was tempered by leveraging the cost over two end-user markets rather than one. Additionally, Boeing established a sales-and-earnings platform on an already strong, well-established business (defense/military) that could be adapted for creating a civilian commercial segment.  Earning power as measured by Net Income increased at about the same rate (2.5x) as the increase in Total Liabilities (2.3x) when measuring the 1954-58 period with the pre-707 era of 1950-53.

Time Line for Launching New Era: Milestone Events (1955-1958)

The Boeing 707 helped revolutionize commercial air travel, and thereby generated enthusiasm while boosting its worldwide prestige and brand name.

TIME PERIOD

MILESTONE EVENT

MAJOR CUSTOMER

March 1955 Order for 400 aircraft United States Air Force
October 1955 Order for 20 aircraft Pan American Airways
November 1955 Order for 30 aircraft American Airlines
February 1956 Order for 33 aircraft TWA
October 1956 Order for 15 aircraft BOAC
1957 Completes delivery of 200 aircraft (1/2 of 1955 order) United States Air Force
1958 Delivery of 8 commercial aircraft Commercial airlines with Pan Am taking first delivery

Significant financial payback took longer to occur.  While Boeing achieved breakeven with the 707 in late 1956, the long-term nature and large capital investment for the aircraft business meant that it took 10 years for the 707 to reach peak-production while simultaneously helping the company achieve peak-earnings in 1967-68.  Unit deliveries for the 707 in 1967-68 were 118 and 111, respectively, as company Net Income exceeded $83 million both years.

After the 707: SST, Wide Body Jet Aircraft, Bigger Bets and Bigger Risk

By the mid-1960s, Boeing had firmly established itself as a leader in commercial jet aircraft with the 707 as its flagship product worldwide.  In anticipation of demand for supersonic jet travel, and with airlines extrapolating the shift of passengers from trains and transoceanic ships into a need for wide-body jet aircraft, Boeing made an even bigger bet by simultaneously pursuing both markets. Boeing did this without having the military aircraft market as a “hedge” or back-up like it did with the 707.  Boeing appeared to be flying high with Net Income topping $83 million in 1967 and 1968, concurrent with triple-digit unit deliveries of the flagship 707 aircraft each of those years.   However, Net Income dropped 88% to $10.2 million in 1969 as economic slowdown, declining air travel and financial retrenchment by the airline industry caused 707 unit shipments to fall by nearly 50%.  In such a weak economy, Boeing only delivered four 747s in 1969, which implied low absorption of fixed overhead and profit margin pressure.  Federal funding of the SST was cancelled in 1971, forcing Boeing to take a loss on this project.

During a peak in the late 1960s and a bottom in 1971, the stock fell 88% as the development of a supersonic transport to compete against the Concorde was called off. And in response to the sharp decline in demand for commercial jet aircraft, Boeing cut its commercial aircraft workforce from 83,700 in 1968 to 20,750 in 1971.

The only reason Boeing did not fail was due to the financial offset by its strong, stable military business in the form of its Minuteman and Cruise missile programs.  Eventually, the long-expected increase in air passenger travel materialized and the accompanying need for wide-body jet aircraft gained momentum with Boeing’s 747 as the prime beneficiary.

Boeing’s financial resurgence, its diverse family of aircraft (narrow-and-wide body models) able to serve all worldwide markets and its strong, stable military business enabled it to outlast and outdistance its competitors. Lockheed exited commercial aircraft in 1981, with McDonnell Douglas and European Air Bus remaining as prime competitors, but with far fewer product offerings versus Boeing.  By 1997, McDonnell Douglas was acquired by Boeing, thereby eliminating it as a competitor.

The commitment of capital and time associated with being a leader in commercial aircraft would appear to support a “bet the company approach” with each successive generation of new jet aircraft. However, Boeing has utilized different tactics to achieve financial success and maintain its market leadership.  The 767 was the company’s first twin-jet wide-body model; the 777 was the first “fly by wire” airliner and the first computer-designed commercial jet aircraft; the 787 is comprised of over 80% composite materials enabling it to be more fuel efficient due to significantly less weight.  Boeing has diversified (and thereby lowered) its risk by outsourcing manufacture of key components and sections of its aircraft models while retaining the design, development and final assembly functions.

This lower degree of vertical and horizontal integration versus the approaches taken in its 707 and 747 models has enabled the company to more efficiently utilize all its resources while still taking the necessary risks to maintain its leadership.  As noted earlier, the success of Boeing’s 707 and 747 programs can be partly attributed to the company’s core competency in military and defense sectors. The 707 was launched on the basis of potentially, and ultimately serving two very large markets, commercial and military. Thus, the company’s missile business was able to sustain Boeing’s overall financial viability while the company weathered the industry downturn in the early 1970s.  As the company launched its later generations of jet aircraft, military/defense business remained a key contributor to overall corporate success for the same reasons noted for the 707 and 747.  The company’s strategic posture was further strengthened when Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas, which was the largest military aircraft player.

CONCLUSIONS

Boeing’s “bet the company strategy” appears to have successively increased earnings power (measured by Net Income) with each generation of new commercial jet aircraft.  Each new revolutionary jet aircraft program eventually is the primary driver in raising total Net Income by several-fold (versus the cycle immediately prior to it).  The 707 led to a 2.5x increase in Net Income (late 1950s/early 1960s versus mid-1950s) and by 1967-68, Net Income was 2x higher than its 1961 level.   The 747 helped Boeing surpass the 1967-68 peak by a factor of 7-times by 1980, with the 767 and 777 programs leading to an eventual 7-fold improvement in Net Income by 2011 versus 1980.  For more information, please see Exhibit 1.

Boeing’s success in commercial jet aircraft stemmed from its military aircraft business in terms of risk sharing (e.g., 707 and its military KC-135 version) and diversification.  The strong position in defense-related projects (e.g., Minuteman and Cruise missiles) provided stable, steady cash flow for the entire corporation thereby providing an additional financial cushion to undertake development of new generations of jet aircraft.  The acquisition of the largest US military contractor, McDonnell Douglas, further strengthened Boeing’s corporate business portfolio in terms of earnings, cash flow and diversification.

Cyclical, financial and execution risks remain perennially relevant for the commercial jet aircraft business. However, Boeing has a proven performance record of being able to maintain its market leadership and increasing its earning power with each generation of new aircraft.  This includes, but is not limited to, accommodating unique customer demand requirements on a global scale, rationalization in down cycles, improvement of assembly and manufacturing processes and either buying out (e.g., acquiring McDonnell Douglas) or driving out (e.g., Lockheed) its major US commercial jet aircraft competitors.

While Boeing’s stock price has been cyclical, investors have learned to be patient every time the company undertakes a bigger bet when launching a new generation of aircraft. In general, as shown in Exhibit II the price of stocks have been more in line with future orders rather than net profit.

 

EXHIBIT 1

 FINANCIAL POSITION (Net Income and Total Liabilities)

& COMMERCIAL JET AIRCRAFT UNIT DELIVERIES – 707 & Wide Body Models

(Financial Figures in US$ Millions) / Years 1951 – 2012

Year

NET INC

Total Liab.

707

747

767

777

787

Stock Price

1951

7.1

103.8

0

1952

12.3

113.4

0

1953

18.3

188.9

0

1954

32.3

171.9

0

1955

27.3

146.7

0

1956

32.1

183.2

0

1957

38.2

312.1

0

1958

29.4

403.7

8

1959

12.4

386.8

77

1960

24.5

300.2

91

1961

35.7

330.9

80

1962

27.2

377.3

68

56.13

1963

22.6

414.0

34

39.13

1964

45.3

345.0

38

39.75

1965

78.3

390.5

61

66.12

1966

76.1

880.8

83

166.75

1967

83.9

1278.8

118

70.12

1968

83.0

1375.7

111

76.12

1969

10.2

1806.4

59

4

59

1970

22.1

1812.4

19

92

23

1971

42.2

1621.5

10

69

19.5

1972

30.4

1262.6

4

30

25.37

1973

51.2

782.9

11

30

23.37

1974

72.4

791.3

21

22

14.25

1975

76.3

778.8

7

21

17

1976

102.9

833.8

9

27

27.62

1977

180.3

1209.1

8

20

38.25

1978

322.9

2099.6

13

32

0

26.37

1979

505.4

3049.7

6

67

0

75.37

1980

600.5

3616.5

3

73

0

65.5

1981

473.0

4298.5

2

53

0

39.75

1982

292.0

4780.0

8

26

20

21.5

1983

355.0

4433.0

8

22

55

36.5

1984

787.0

4790.0

8

16

29

44.5

1985

566.0

4882.0

3

24

25

62.38

1986

665.0

6242.0

4

35

27

48.25

Year

NET INC

 

Total Liab.

707

747

767

777

787

Stock Price

1987

480.0

7579.0

9

23

37

50.25

1989

973.0

7147.0

5

45

37

63.38

1990

1385.0

7618.0

4

70

60

59.25

1991

1567.0

7691.0

14

64

62

49.38

1992

552.0

9916.0

5

61

63

50.88

1993

1244.0

11292.0

1

56

51

35.25

1994

856.0

11763.0

1

40

41

43.25

1995

393.0

12200.0

25

37

13

44.5

1996

1095.0

16313.0

26

43

32

77.5

1997

-178.0

25071.0

39

42

59

107.12

1998

1120.0

24356.0

53

47

74

47.63

1999

2309.0

24685.0

47

44

83

34.69

2000

2128.0

31008.0

25

44

55

44.5

2001

2827.0

37518.0

31

40

61

58.5

2002

492.0

44646.0

27

35

47

40.95

2003

718.0

44896.0

19

24

39

31.39

2004

1872.0

42677.0

15

9

36

41.59

2005

2572.0

48999.0

13

10

40

50.6

2006

2215.0

47055.0

14

12

65

68.31

2007

4074.0

49982.0

16

12

83

89.56

2008

2672.0

55073.0

14

10

61

83.18

2009

1312.0

59828.0

8

13

88

42.31

2010

3307.0

65703.0

0

12

74

60.6

2011

4018.0

76378.0

9

20

73

3

69.48

2012

3900.0

82929.0

31

26

83

46

74.1

 

 

Exhibit II

Percentage changes in Stocks 1962-2013

Date

Open

High

Low

Volume

Close

%   Change

1/2/2013

76.55

78.02

72.68

9497200

73.87

-0.4179

1/3/2012

74.7

76.7

72.74

5428200

74.18

6.7645

1/3/2011

66.15

72.99

66

6661000

69.48

14.6535

1/4/2010

55.72

63.4

54.8

7336400

60.6

43.2286

1/2/2009

42.8

47

39.51

7440100

42.31

-49.1344

1/2/2008

87.57

87.84

74.12

9118100

83.18

-7.1237

1/3/2007

88.9

90.34

84.6

5173500

89.56

31.1082

1/3/2006

70.4

71.27

65.9

4052400

68.31

35.0000

1/3/2005

51.85

52.25

49.52

3609600

50.6

21.1976

1/2/2004

42.5

44.71

41.47

3312700

41.75

32.1621

1/2/2003

33

34.59

30.2

2852700

31.59

-22.8571

1/2/2002

38.54

41.89

37.65

4044700

40.95

-30.0000

1/2/2001

65.31

65.31

54.56

4107200

58.5

31.4607

1/3/2000

41.44

48.13

39.75

4570200

44.5

28.2790

1/4/1999

32.81

36.75

32.56

4846300

34.69

-27.1678

1/2/1998

48.94

49.81

42.81

5055900

47.63

-55.5358

1/2/1997

105.87

114.5

103

3436700

107.12

38.2194

1/2/1996

78.37

81.37

75.37

2661500

77.5

74.1573

1/3/1995

47

49.75

44.38

2187700

44.5

2.8902

1/3/1994

43.38

45.5

42.25

2264900

43.25

22.6950

1/4/1993

40.13

40.88

34

3176000

35.25

-30.7193

1/2/1992

47.25

54.63

46.63

2980600

50.88

3.0377

1/2/1991

45.25

49.63

43.13

2434900

49.38

-16.6582

1/2/1990

59.38

63.25

56.63

2422800

59.25

-6.5163

1/3/1989

60.63

63.75

57.88

3450600

63.38

38.5355

1/4/1988

37.38

46

37.38

2557600

45.75

-8.9552

1/2/1987

51.38

53.5

49.13

5349400

50.25

4.1451

1/2/1986

52.25

53.5

46

3637100

48.25

-22.6515

1/2/1985

56.5

63

54.25

4182900

62.38

40.1798

1/3/1984

43.75

49.88

43.75

3239700

44.5

21.9178

1/3/1983

33.88

37.25

31.87

2295300

36.5

69.7674

1/4/1982

22.62

23.25

20.37

1140500

21.5

-45.9119

1/2/1981

44.13

44.25

39.38

1879100

39.75

-39.3130

1/2/1980

50.63

68.87

48.13

4579100

65.5

-13.0954

1/2/1979

71.37

79.37

69.75

3613200

75.37

185.8172

1/3/1978

28.12

28.12

25

1440900

26.37

-31.0588

1/3/1977

44.75

44.88

37.5

1784300

38.25

38.4866

Date

Open

High

Low

Volume

Close

%   Change

1/2/1976

24.37

28.75

24.37

1424000

27.62

62.4706

1/2/1975

15.75

17.37

15.13

620700

17

19.2982

1/2/1974

12.38

14.5

11.63

965400

14.25

-39.0244

1/2/1973

25.37

26.87

22

1007500

23.37

-7.8833

1/3/1972

19

26.5

19

2847800

25.37

30.1026

1/4/1971

14.63

19.5

14.63

1806400

19.5

-15.2174

1/2/1970

28.12

31.87

21.25

1182000

23

-61.0169

1/2/1969

56.88

60.38

55.13

688000

59

-22.4908

1/2/1968

90.25

90.25

76

903400

76.12

8.5568

1/3/1967

67

74.87

61.75

1736100

70.12

-57.9490

1/3/1966

130.75

172

130.75

1913100

166.75

152.1930

1/4/1965

68.87

70.37

62.75

1404200

66.12

66.3396

1/2/1964

36

39.88

36

564600

39.75

1.5845

1/2/1963

37.13

39.88

36.63

781200

39.13

-30.2868

1/2/1962

50.88

56.25

48.13

1225700

56.13

 

REFERENCE SOURCES

Air International. “367-80(707 Prototype)” – N.P., N.D.

Boeing Company.  Various public company documents, 1950 – 2012.

Boeing 747-400, Aircraft of the World. N.P.:International Master Publishers., N.D.

Boeing 777-400, Aircraft of the World. N.P.: International Master Publishers, N.D.

Connolly, Patrick. “‘Old Bird’ Ushered in Jet Era.” Page A-40; The San Diego Union [San Diego, CA] 8 Oct. 1978, Weekend Edition, Business Section.

Fortune Magazine.  “The Selling of the 707.”  October, 1957

Green, William (compiler) and Punnett, Dennis (silhouette artist). The Observer’s Book of Aircraft.  Frederick Warne & Co. (London and New York). 1965.

Haloulakos, V.E.  Aerospace Engineer, Scientist and Professor.  (BSME, MSAE and ENGR.D.  Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California).

Harris, Neil. “Boeing 747: Constructing the Colossus.” FLIGHT Internationa.l December 19. 1968: Page 1027.

History Link.Org – Washington State History.

The San Diego Union [San Diego, CA], “Boeing Jet’s First Flight Called ‘A-ok.'” September 27, 1981: Page A-4.

Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) EDGAR System – 10 K Reports.

Thompson, R. G. “Dash 80.” Air and Space Magazine. April-May 1987: Pages 63-65

Wharton Research Data Service.

RESEARCH SUPPORT

Ku, Yueh Su.  Financial Research/Data Mining.  UC San Diego Extension – Finance Certificate post graduate student.

Shannahan, MeglynAnne Price. Industry/Economic Research.  UC San Diego Extension – Finance Certificate post graduate student.

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “THE BOEING COMPANY: A Case Study on Betting it All”

  1. Here is a link to the classic video clip of the Boeing 707 barrel roll over Lake Washington (Seattle, WA) which forever affirmed this iconic aircraft with the company’s “bet it all” strategy. The video runs less than 2-minutes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KNbKFMBsQE

    The test pilot was Tex Johnston, and his stunt flying wowed the airline executives who made the purchase decisions on acquiring new aircraft.

  2. The Boeing 707 continues to be remain on active duty. OMEGA Company, based in San Antonio, TX (owned & operated by former military aviation personnel) refurbish 707 aircraft and convert them into tankers so that these private aircraft can refuel both the USAF and USMC aircraft in midair while these branches of the US armed forces conduct their practice maneuvers here in the continental United States. What is noteworthy about the OMEGA 707 tankers is that they refuel multiple jet aircraft simultaneously! The Smithsonian Cable TV channel recently profiled this upgraded 707 in an episode appropriately titled “OMEGA.”

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