Why I’m Not Buying the Boeing Turnaround

|March 29, 2024
Logo of Boeing is sharp in the foreground, while the stock chart in the clouds is blurred in the background

Unsurprisingly, Boeing Co. (BA) finds itself navigating turbulent skies yet again.

On Monday, CEO Dave Calhoun announced he will vacate his position at the end of this year.

A broader leadership shakeup, long overdue in my opinion, comes amidst a violent storm of safety crises and manufacturing challenges. They’ve left the aerospace giant reeling and its stock in a nosedive.

Boeing’s announcement also revealed that Chairman Larry Kellner would not seek re-election. Additionally, Stan Deal, the chief of Boeing’s commercial airplane division, is retiring immediately, with Chief Operating Officer Stephanie Pope stepping into his role for the interim.

The boardroom and management shakeup reflects a growing sense of frustration among customers, stakeholders, supply chain partners and shareholders as Boeing struggles to regain control.

The worst of Boeing’s recent string of tragedies and frighteningly sickening incidents includes:

  • In October 2018, shortly after takeoff a brand-new Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea. The crash, which killed all 189 passengers on board, was attributed to a faulty angle of attack sensor and flawed software system known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System).
  • in early 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, operating another Boeing 737 Max 8, crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Again, all passengers – 157 people in total – were killed. Similar to the Lion Air crash, the accident was linked to issues with the MCAS system.
  • Just this year, on January 5th, a door panel on a Boeing 737 – operated by Alaska Air – blew off midair. There were no bolts installed on the door plug, according to findings released by the National Transportation Safety Board. A picture of the plane in a factory in Renton, Washington, revealed the lack of bolts, the NTSB said.
  • Also in January – just weeks after the Alaska Air incident – an ANA (All Nippon Airways)-operated Boeing 737-800 had to turn around and land back in Japan after a crack was found on the cockpit window.
  • In February, a United Airlines Boeing 757-200 had to land unexpectedly in Denver to “address an issue with the slat” on one of its wings.
  • On March 7th, a United Boeing 777-200 on a flight from San Francisco to Osaka, Japan had to make an emergency landing in Los Angeles after it was discovered (and captured on video) that a tire had fallen off the plane during takeoff.
  • Most recently, on March 11th, dozens of people were hurt on a LATAM Airlines-operated Boeing 787-800 flying from Australia to New Zealand. This time, the captain’s cockpit chair had come loose, throwing him into controls, causing the plane to suddenly drop.

That’s an insane number of technical failures – and downright disasters – for what was once the most respected aircraft manufacturer in the world.

So, there’s no wonder why Calhoun and Deal have faced mounting criticism. Stakeholders are questioning Boeing’s commitment to manufacturing quality and safety. And the pressure on the leadership team only intensified as major airline executives called for direct engagement with the board, bypassing Calhoun.

The board’s decision to initiate a leadership overhaul underscores the urgency of addressing Boeing’s deep-rooted challenges.

As Boeing embarks on the search for a new CEO, several potential candidates have emerged, including current board member Stephanie Pope and industry veterans such as Larry Culp and Dave Cote.

But whoever takes over will have their work cut out for them.

The incoming CEO is going to inherit a company grappling with multiple crises, from manufacturing quality lapses to strained relationships with regulators and customers.

The challenges facing Boeing require more than just a change in leadership. As I noted in my Monday Takeaways, they demand a fundamental shift in the company’s culture and operations.

With shareholders and customers closely monitoring developments, Boeing’s future hinges on its ability to swiftly implement reforms and regain trust. The departure of Calhoun marks a pivotal moment for the aerospace giant, signaling the beginning of a new chapter in its quest for stability and resilience.

As far as Boeing’s stock, buying it on turnaround prospects is like trying to catch a falling knife… or a falling plane in this case. There’s price support around $175 and resistance around $215. And while I’d consider a speculative buy of some Boeing shares here in the low $190s range, I’d be scared to death another crash would drop the stock through support.

With that kind of downside and a tough upside runway ahead, I think I’ll just buy some more Microsoft (MSFT).