updated 4/25/2007 10:48:28 AM ET 2007-04-25T14:48:28

Boeing Co. said Wednesday that its first-quarter earnings climbed 27 percent, thanks largely to robust orders for commercial airplanes and strong defense business.

Earlier this year, Boeing surpassed rival Airbus in plane orders, but the European aircraft maker delivered more aircraft and held its position as the world’s top airplane manufacturer. Boeing is expected to outpace Airbus’ deliveries next year.

Chicago-based Boeing earned $877 million, or $1.13 per share, for the quarter ending March 31 compared with $692 million, or 88 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue climbed 8 percent to $15.4 billion, beating Wall Street expectations. During the year-ago period, Boeing had revenue of $14.3 billion.

On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial forecast earnings per share of $1.01 on revenue of $15.02 billion.

The company said its backlog climbed 23 percent to another record — $262 billion — thanks largely to strong commercial plane and defense orders.

“These results are in line with our expectations for the quarter and represent solid progress toward the high goals we have for ourselves in 2007 and beyond,” President and CEO Jim McNerney said in a statement. “Our record backlog, increasing productivity, and the progress of our development programs have us on track to achieve our growth and profitability objectives.”

The company’s commercial airplane division delivered 106 planes as its revenue climbed 7 percent to $7.6 billion. The unit’s profit from operations remained largely flat at $706 million, compared to $703 million last year.

Boeing’s integrated defense systems division saw its revenues climb 7 percent, while its operating profit slipped 4 percent to $784 million, down from $817 million during the year-ago period.

Boeing reaffirmed its previous 2007 guidance, saying it expected to have revenue between $64.5 billion and $65 billion, while earning between $4.55 and 4.75 per share. In 2008, the company said it expects to have revenue between $71 billion and $72 billion, while earning between $5.55 and $5.75 per share.

Financial analysts called the company’s performance mixed, even though results surpassed Wall Street forecasts.

“Some investors may be disappointed that guidance, which remains well below consensus expectations, did not improve,” JP Morgan analyst Joseph B. Nadol III wrote in a research note.

Richard Aboulafia, an airline analyst with the Teal Group, said Boeing’s results put continued pressure on Airbus.

“This is a very strong jetliner market environment and their products are outperforming the other guys,” Aboulafia said.

During the quarter, Boeing said it repurchased about 44 million shares worth $360 million.

Boeing also said it expects to spend up to $3.4 billion on research and development this year. The development of company’s 787 Dreamliner continues to progress on time, officials said. The plane is expected to begin service in May 2008, while its first flight is targeted for late August.

“The program continues to address pressures with respect to weight, schedule and supplier implementation as it moves to the very critical final assembly and software and systems integration phases,” Boeing said in a statement.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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