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Stormy skies ahead for Boeing are overshadowing a very strong fourth quarter

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DALLAS — Boeing Co. shares slid to their lowest levels in 2 1/2 years on Wednesday after the company reported lower fourth-quarter profit and gave a disappointing forecast for earnings and airplane deliveries in 2016.

It didn't even matter that its fourth-quarter results beat Wall Street expectations.

Boeing said it expects adjusted 2016 earnings of between $8.15 and $8.35 per share, compared with an average forecast of $9.41 among analysts surveyed by FactSet. It also gave a disappointing revenue forecast, and said aircraft deliveries would slip from a record 762 in 2015 to between 740 and 745 this year.

All of that could stoke fears that Boeing faces headwinds from a lackluster global economy, and that the market for new planes may be slowing after several boom years.

CEO Dennis Muilenburg struck an upbeat tone on a call with investors, saying that forecasts of global economic growth of around 2.7 percent would be "respectable" for his business. He noted that air travel has been growing faster than economies overall, including in China, where slowing growth has rattled financial markets around the world.

"That is a strong trend, it's a long-term trend," Muilenburg said of increasing travel, "and that is part of what paints a bit more of a bullish view in terms of our growth prospects."

Boeing and European rival Airbus have prospered in recent years as suddenly flush airlines ordered hundreds of planes.

But Boeing announced Wednesday that it will cut production of one of its most successful planes, the 777, as it gets ready to roll out a new 777 in 2020. The company recently announced it would reduce output of a cargo-carrying version of its 747 because of falling demand.

PHOTO: In this Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, photo, a winglet and the vertical stabilizer of the first Boeing 737 MAX airplane to roll off Boeing's assembly line in Renton, Wash., are shown before an employee-only rollout event. Boeing reports financial results Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
In this Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, photo, a winglet and the vertical stabilizer of the first Boeing 737 MAX airplane to roll off Boeing's assembly line in Renton, Wash., are shown before an employee-only rollout event. Boeing reports financial results Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

On the plus side, Boeing will increase production of the 737, a single-aisle plane that is a mainstay of airline fleets for short- and medium-length flights. Boeing expects to roll out 57 a month starting in 2019, up from 42 a month now.

Boeing's fourth-quarter earnings fell 30 percent from a year ago but beat Wall Street expectations.

The Chicago-based company reported net income of $1.03 billion, down from $1.47 billion a year earlier. Excluding what Boeing termed one-time items, including a charge for the reduced 747 production, adjusted earnings were $1.60 per share, easily topping the $1.30 per share average forecast among analysts surveyed by FactSet. Revenue fell 4 percent to $23.57 billion, hitting Wall Street's target.

Investors, however, were looking ahead, not back at the fourth quarter.

Cai von Rumohr, an analyst with Cowen and Co., said the 2016 forecast appeared to be weakened by the expected sale of 20 to 25 fewer airliners totaling $2 billion to $3 billion, and about $1 billion in lower defense sales, some of which might have occurred in late 2015 instead of 2016.

The company forecast 2016 revenue between $93 billion and $95 billion. Analysts expected $97.26 billion, according to FactSet.

S&P Capital IQ analyst Jim Corridore said the outlook for revenue and aircraft deliveries in 2016 was disappointing but the company still has a $490 billion backlog.

Boeing's stock closed Wednesday down $11.43, or almost 9 percent, to $116.58. Earlier in the day, it touched $115.02, its lowest level since the fall of 2013.


David Koenig can be reached at http://twitter.com/airlinewriter

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