Boeing profits down, but beat expectations

The Boeing Co.'s first quarter profits beat Wall Street expectations but were down 19 percent from the same period last year.

Earnings were 70 cents per share, which was above the Wall Street estimate of 64 cents per share.

Boeing stock closed at $74.16, up $2.75, in trading Wednesday. At more than $74, the stock price has more than doubled from its 52-week low of $35.94.

The year-on-year drop came from a 20-cent-per-share charge for expenses because of recent health care legislation and to a decline in deliveries of commercial airliners in the first quarter, Boeing said.

Boeing’s commercial airplane deliveries dropped to 108 in the first quarter from 121 a year ago – mainly because a Japanese seat maker has not yet certified its seat safety.

The company’s net profit of $519 million was down from $610 million in the same quarter last year.

But analysts have remained upbeat about the company, since the long-delayed 787 is finally in test flights, and the 747-8 is being readied for first deliveries at the end of the year.

Dreamliner testing shows that the plane will live up to expectations, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Jim Albaugh said.

“Based on what I see from a performance standpoint, from an aerodynamic standpoint, from an engine standpoint, from a weight and range standpoint, I think we are going to be OK,” Albaugh said.

“The performance of the airplane very closely meets the models we had in place. … We’re starting to feel very confident,” he said.

While the testing schedule has lagged, the new plane is expected to pass government tests this year and will be sent to customers by the end of 2010, Boeing Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney said.

Analysts expect Boeing profits to accelerate as the airline industry recovers from the recession and the company begins delivering its new 787 Dreamliners and 747-8s.

McNerney said he’ll make a decision by June whether to accelerate the assembly line pace at Boeing’s Renton 737 plant.

That plant now produces 31 737s a month.