Bill Ackman Sees Boeing’s Survival Hinging on U.S. Government Bailout
Boeing Co.’s staggering decline is spurring doubts about how the planemaker — long a symbol of U.S. industrial might — will survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Wall Street is already bracing for a dividend cut as Boeing seeks to preserve cash. And the company isn’t likely to make it at all without federal help, activist investor Bill Ackman said Wednesday.
“Boeing is on the brink,” Ackman, head of Pershing Square Capital Management, said in an interview on CNBC. “Boeing will not survive without a government bailout.”
Ackman’s warning underscores the intensifying pain for Boeing, which was already reeling coming into this year after a pair of deadly crashes prompted the grounding of its top-selling 737 Max jetliner. The company is now seeking at least $60 billion in government aid for itself and suppliers, and President Donald Trump said Tuesday that “we have to protect Boeing.” The White House has already proposed $50 billion in loans to airlines.
Boeing plunged 18% to $101.89 at the close in New York, the lowest since July 2013. The shares have tumbled 71% since their 2020 peak on Feb. 12, wiping out $138 billion in shareholder value.
Airbus SE, Boeing’s European rival, has dropped 64% over the same period, reflecting the global nature of the crisis.
Boeing didn’t respond to a request for comment following Ackman’s remarks. The hedge fund wasn’t a Boeing investor as of the latest public filings.
‘Bridge to Recovery’
In a statement late Tuesday, the Chicago-based company said the aerospace industry’s long-term outlook is strong, even as the virus outbreak keeps many travelers at home for now. That’s why government assistance is needed, the company said.
“This will be one of the most important ways for airlines, airports, suppliers and manufacturers to bridge to recovery,” Boeing said.
The manufacturer was already struggling to win regulatory approval to get the Max flying again. A worldwide flying ban hit the one-year mark March 13.
“Boeing enters this aerospace down-cycle already wounded by Max, and the question has started to be raised as to whether it can survive,” Robert Stallard, an analyst with Vertical Research, said in a note. This situation is “about as bad as it can get for Boeing.”
The company’s woes are sending shock waves through the vast network of manufacturers that supply Boeing planes.
“I told someone at work, ‘If Boeing goes down, just turn off the lights and go home,’”said Peter Zieve, chief executive officer of Electroimpact, a 600-employee company in Mukilteo, Washington, that makes equipment such as drilling machines for Boeing assembly lines. “We were slow anyway because of the Max. And then here you go, boom — throw another bomb in there.“
Ultimately, Boeing — which is also a major contractor for the Pentagon — is probably “too big to fail” and will get the help it needs, Stallard said. Still, it will have to take actions such as suspending the dividend, which could save the company $4.7 billion a year.
“Given the uncertainty that it is now dealing with, that cash could be vital,” he said.
While Boeing’s cash position is still reasonably strong, halting dividend payouts “would be the prudent thing to do,” said George Ferguson, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.
Ferguson isn’t convinced that a failure to obtain government aid would be a death blow for Boeing, but he said it would likely force the company to shutter “large portions of its commercial business.”
Even if the planemaker can get government support, Boeing will still need its customers to regain financial stability, he said.
“It buys Boeing time,” he said. “But the only fix for the problem is to get the airline business back up and rolling globally.”
— With assistance by Joshua Fineman, and Peter Robison
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