A $32B tally, but Boeing’s 787 costs don’t bother Wall Street

EVERETT — It is a mind-boggling number: $32 billion.

That’s how much money the Boeing Co. has spent making 787 Dreamliners so far.

Despite spending billions on the 787 program, Boeing’s stock value Monday — $123.99 — was well above the $69.73 it averaged in 2011 when the composite material airplane was first delivered.

Cash flow. That’s what matters most for investors and stock analysts.

The money Boeing has spent making Dreamliners is already gone.

“It’s sunk costs, so to some extent it’s not all that relevant going forward,” said a Wall Street analyst who was not authorized to publicly comment on Boeing stock, which he tracks.

What matters most for the company’s future — for paying investor dividends, for making payroll, keeping the lights on — is cash flow. The company and analysts expect the 787 program to bring in more and more cash every month.

Boeing has significantly cut 787 production costs in the past couple years.

The company will release its 2015 earnings report Wednesday.

Boeing leaders are expected to say if they hit the goal of becoming cash positive on the 787 program, meaning the whole program would be bringing in more cash than it is spending. Due to the nuances of corporate accounting, it would take a little longer before Boeing starts making back the money it already has spent assembling 787s. That amount totaled $32.2 billion when Boeing reported third quarter earnings for 2015. That included $28.3 billion in deferred production costs and $3.9 billion in non-recurring costs, including tooling.

Deferred costs are used as part of Boeing’s accounting method, known as program accounting.

Program accounting is used on a corporate balance sheet to give investors and company leaders a long-term view of how a corporation is financially performing, said David Burgstahler, an accounting professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

“The idea of program accounting is to spread upfront development costs across a program’s lifespan,” he said.

Cash flow is more immediate, he said. “You can only stay in business if you have enough cash to cover your current costs.”

Even in 2013 — when Boeing was losing more than $100 million on each 787 — Boeing had enough cash to cover the costs. In the early 1990s, the company had enough cash to cover the early costs when it developed the 777. Deferred costs on the 787 program have dwarfed those of previous programs.

“Just eliminating (787) losses makes Boeing’s cash flow get better,” even if it is only breaking even, the Wall Street analyst said.

Still, he expects Boeing to at least make most of its money back over time. Worst case, if it has to write off a few billion dollars, it can absorb the cost, he said.

“I don’t know if another company uses program accounting in the same way” as Boeing, he said. “There’s not another company quite like Boeing.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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