In a trade war, Boeing could be a sitting duck

The sparkling new Boeing 787s bound for China Southern Airlines and Air China are waiting to be delivered, but the prospect of a trade war could make for a less rosy future. At this Boeing manufacturing plant in Charleston, South Carolina — which President Donald Trump visited a year ago to cries of “God Bless Boeing” — the trade battle he unleashed with Beijing last week is far off. Or so it seems.
Like the company itself, workers at the plant, which produces the Boeing 787 and where unions have struggled to organise the labour force, say little when the question comes up.
But the threat of losing export markets is still clear and present.
“Unfortunately, Boeing makes an easy target for anyone wishing to retaliate against the new US trade measures,” Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, said.
A flagship of US industry and one of the best known American brands, the company says it is the largest US exporter because about 80 per cent of its planes are for export.
As a result, any trade major conflict would leave the company dangerously exposed — in particular one involving the world’s fastest growing aviation market in China.
Boeing was one of the first companies Trump attacked on Twitter, when he threatened to cancel an order for a new presidential plane he said was too expensive.
The company has managed to work its way back into the president’s good graces, with its share price up 129 per cent since the election in November 2016.
But since peaking in February, Boeing’s shares are down more than 10 per cent as investors consider the company’s prospects in the new trade environment Trump has created.
At least in the short term, the company has little to fear, with a healthy order portfolio of 5,864 planes — meaning it will be in constant production through 2024.
Furthermore, China, where air travel is booming, can scarcely afford to push its partly state-owned domestic carriers to cancel their orders or boycott the US manufacturer because they simply have no alternative, experts say.
The Chinese manufacturer Comac, which soon hopes to market its C919 — a potential competitor to the mid-range Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 jets — is not yet ready for large-scale production.
The plane had its first test flight in December.
“In the best case scenario, Comac will need another five or six years to reach a respectable production capacity,” said Michel Merluzeau, an analyst at AirInsight. — AFP