Boeing is likely to announce Wednesday morning another production rate cut, this time for the 777 program, according to a senior executive with a 777 customer whom Boeing consulted as it prepared its plan.
Just last week Boeing announced that due to slow sales it would cut the rate on the 747 jumbo jet program, starting in September, to one plane every two months. The company said it would book an $885 million pretax write-off as a result of that rate cut.
Another multimillion-dollar charge would need to be added if the 777 is cut. A second source also indicated that the announcement could come Wednesday, when the company reports its quarterly earnings.
Most Wall Street analysts have been predicting a 777 rate cut from the current 100 jets per year — but after the 747 cut, they’ve assumed a 777 announcement wouldn’t come until later in the year.
Boeing currently doesn’t have enough sales to fill all the 777 delivery slots between now and when production of the new 777X kicks into high gear after the turn of the decade.
Scott Hamilton, an Issaquah-based aviation analyst with Leeham.net, published an analysis Tuesday estimating that “Boeing needs to sell more than 200 777 Classics, all with delivery dates through 2021, to bridge the gap to full production of the 777X.”
Last year, Boeing sold just 38 of those current-model 777s.
Most financial analysts believe the 777 production rate will have to come down to about 70 jets per year, while one more pessimistic industry analyst has said it could go as low as 50 per year.
After the 747 cut was made public, Robert Stallard, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, told his clients that “The question is likely to be – is the 777 next?”
Carter Copeland, a financial analyst with Barclays, wrote a note to clients headlined “Not the Cut Everyone’s Waiting For.”
He wrote that Wall Street is “waiting with bated breath for a cut on the 777 program” and suggested that Boeing might still hold out hope of avoiding it with new sales.
A 777 rate reduction is much more significant for Boeing than the cut to the 747.
About 2,000 people work directly on building the 747, and more than 3,000 on the 777.
And while the 747 is built at a very slow rate, the high-production, high-margin 777 is a cash cow for Boeing.
If chief executive Dennis Muilenburg does pull the trigger on a 777 cut Wednesday, he’ll face intense questioning about the financial implications on a teleconference call with analysts and the press Wednesday morning.