I have owned Boeing stock, but sold out of it last year due to a couple reasons. First, its a very large cap stock that grew a lot, and I didn’t understand why it jumped so much. My current opinion is on large cap stocks, you are competing more against institutional money that really models the company and the profits, so I don’t know if I want to try to outperform those companies with those resources.
The second reason I unloaded Boeing was more anecdotal. A group of guys I socialize with have and had worked for Boeing for the last 30 years. They were always very positive on Boeing and its management – until a few years ago. All of these employees were disgusted with management, and felt things were going downhill. I try to make a point in investing in superior management, and so this change in sentiment was enough to convince me to stay away.
With the recent drop in the price of Boeing stock due to the whole 737 Max events, I gave some thought to re-entering Boeing stock. The consensus had been that the problem is a software problem, easy enough to fix with software update. But more info is starting to come out, and now, I am beginning to think weak management is showing its hand.
This article on Quartz provides a great overview as to the issue surrounding the 737 Max. To summarize, when Airbus came out with a fuel efficient A320, Boeing had to quickly adapt the 737 to stay competitive. And to adapt the 737 to the new engines, they had to move the engines on the wing. This led to some handling problems, so they created software ‘as a kludge’ to offset the handling problem. So this is much more than just a software fix – the need for the software is due to a design flaw, which is additional complexity in the airplane. It seems this need to rush out a new plane for competitive needs may have led to deadly consequences. Also hitting the news is headlines about the approval process and the training provided to the airlines, none of it positive for Boeing.
So now, given this complexity and the headline risk, why would an airline pick the 737 Max over the A320? It seems this puts Boeing at a real competitive disadvantage. Indonesian airline Garunda already cancelled their orders for the Max – I would guess more will follow. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Boeing received no new orders for the 737 Max in March, and only 10 orders in the first quarter of 2019. Add on congressional investigations into the FAA certification process, the extended groundings, passenger perceptions of the airplane, and pilots concern related to the training, and I think the story gets worse before it gets better.
So if your bull thesis on Boeing is based on this 737 Max problem just being a software fix – think again. I think this could be the sign of cracks in the company culture and missteps by management. I think this plane that management forced out for competitive purposes could end up being a long term disaster for Boeing.