Shares of Boeing (NYSE: BA) traded down more than 6% on Thursday after the company said it is offering early-retirement and buyout packages to its workforce. The move is the clearest sign yet that the aerospace giant believes the travel slowdown caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is likely to last well beyond the outbreak.
Boeing shares have been hit hard during the pandemic-related sell-off, losing nearly half of their value in March. Airlines are scrambling to cut flights, ground planes, and freeze spending in response to a drop in travel demand, and the carriers seem unlikely to ramp up spending quickly should the U.S. economy fall into a deep recession.
Boeing, in response, has suspended its dividend and requested financial assistance from Washington, but any hope for a quick recovery was quashed Thursday after CEO Dave Calhoun said in a memo to workers, "It will take time for the aerospace industry to recover from the crisis."
The company is looking to trim its overall workforce, Calhoun said, because "it's important we start adjusting to our new reality now."
Boeing had already anticipated demand for larger, widebody aircraft to weaken in the years to come, and now it is debatable what demand for its smaller 737 MAX aircraft will be like if and when it is returned to service later this year.
Boeing's not going anywhere. The long-term trend for travel growth is unlikely to be halted by the pandemic, and the company also has a $25 billion-sales defense business to fall back on during a commercial aerospace slump. But it is growing increasingly clear that the commercial aerospace buying spree that lasted a better part of a decade is over, and that is going to take some of the lift out of Boeing shares.
Calhoun and Boeing have a lot to work through, and it could take the company a significant amount of time to regain altitude. Shares of Boeing keep getting less expensive, but I still see no reason to buy in at this time.
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