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Boeing, Suppliers Near $60 Billion From US Aid Package

March 26, 2020
Help requested by the Chicago-based aerospace company is likely on its way as part of the stimulus bill expected to pass Congress March 27.

Boeing Co. and its suppliers moved one step closer to a federal rescue that would provide at least $60 billion to help ride out the coronavirus pandemic, people familiar with the planemaker’s thinking said.

The aerospace industry including Boeing would be eligible to tap a slice of the roughly $500 billion to be distributed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin under a $2 trillion economic stimulus package passed by the Senate late Wednesday. Boeing could also claim part of $17 billion in loans for companies deemed critical for national security.

Boeing executives combed through the legislation before passage while evaluating proposals from bankers to line up additional liquidity, the people said. As the travel market collapsed Boeing planned for a range of outcomes and even sought advice from restructuring advisers to help understand its options -- although such a radical approach was never seriously considered by management, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing private matters.

The Chicago-based manufacturer is expected to focus in particular on the investment-grade debt market once the federal aid terms are clear and the financial strategy is squared away, they said. The aerospace titan would probably be able to extract more favorable terms from debt investors than from equity investors, the people said.

Stock Surge

Boeing jumped 10% to $174.98 at 9:35 a.m. in New York a day after surging 24%, the biggest gain since at least 1980. The shares had soared 67% this week through Wednesday as market chatter switched to bailout terms from more dire scenarios. But they were still down 51% this year, the worst drop on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Boeing’s price target was raised to $202 from $173 by Douglas Harned, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, who said the shares can rise if near-term liquidity threats can be eliminated. The planemaker doesn’t appear to be at great risk “unless airlines have fleets largely grounded for most of 2020,” he said.

While U.S. airlines fought for government grants to bolster rapidly dwindling cash, Boeing has a cushion of $15 billion to get it through the next few months. How much aid the planemaker takes will vary depending on the terms imposed by the Treasury Department and the strength of the capital markets, one of the people said.

Company executives had lobbied for U.S. government loans or loan guarantees. Debt markets have been balky for lower-tier investment-grade credit companies like Boeing and shut for junk-rated risks such as Spirit AeroSystems Holding Inc., which makes about 70% of the Boeing’s 737 Max jetliners.

“I want them to support the credit market, provide liquidity, allow us to borrow against our future, which we all believe in very strongly and I think our creditors will too,” Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun said of lawmakers in a Tuesday interview with CNBC. “It’s really that simple. And then we pay it back as fast as we can. And yes, they collect an interest payment.”

Resisting Stake

The company opposed reviving deals from the global financial crisis era more than a decade ago, when the U.S. government took some equity stakes as a condition of aid, he said.

Boeing officials have declined to say how much of the requested $60 billion the planemaker would take for itself, while saying that 70 cents of every dollar it receives flows through to a base of mostly U.S. suppliers.

Boeing has already been under withering scrutiny for its handling of the 737 Max crisis. It now faces an outcry from opponents of government bailouts, including one from a longtime ally: Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who resigned from Boeing’s board last week.

But there’s no question of the threat to Boeing from the sudden halt in air travel as consumers isolate themselves at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, about a quarter of the world’s commercial aircraft fleet -- almost 6,000 planes -- were parked, according to a Vertical Research Partners analysis of Cirium data.

Travel Upended

The investment grade bond market showed a stunning turnaround on Wednesday this week following support from the Federal Reserve as ten issuers priced $23.75 billion with wildly oversubscribed order books.

Before the coronavirus disrupted global airline travel, Boeing had already raised a $13.8 billion two-year delayed-draw term loan with a group of banks to weather the 737 Max grounding and production halt. Boeing accessed roughly half of the loan in February, and then tapped the full amount in March as a precaution due to market turmoil. The loan was structured in such a way that it was expected to be fully drawn eventually.

Boeing’s bonds fell over the last month as the coronavirus halted global airline travel and amid a broad sell-off in the credit markets. The bonds began to recover Wednesday, buoyed by the expectations of federal support. Boeing’s $750 million in 2.95% notes due 2030 traded at 82.8 cents on the dollar, up about four points from Tuesday but down from 106 in the beginning of March, according to Trace data.

Boeing fell into the lowest tier of investment grade last week after S&P Global Ratings cut its rating to BBB, following Moody’s Investor Services’ Baa1 in January. Fitch Ratings cut the company to BBB on Tuesday.

By Julie Johnsson, Nabila Ahmed and Paula Seligson

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