updated 10/24/2007 11:54:08 AM ET 2007-10-24T15:54:08

Boeing Co., the world’s No. 2 commercial airplane maker, said Wednesday that it posted its best profit in nearly four years as its third-quarter earnings climbed 61 percent because of higher commercial airplane deliveries and growth in its defense business.

The results beat Wall Street expectations, but the company warned that delays in the launch of its new 787 “Dreamliner” plane would lower its 2008 revenue.

For the quarter ending Sept. 30, Boeing’s profit rose to $1.1 billion, or $1.44 per share, up from $694 million, or 89 cents per share, a year ago.

Revenue rose 12 percent to $16.5 billion from $14.7 billion a year ago.

On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial forecast earnings per share of $1.24 on $16 billion in revenue.

“Our focus on growth and productivity is driving strong financial performance across our company,” Boeing Chairman and Chief Executive Jim McNerney said in a statement.

Boeing said its backlog reached another record, climbing to $295 billion.

The Chicago-based company is on pace to overtake rival Airbus as the world’s largest commercial airplane maker within a year.

“It was a very solid quarter,” said Morningstar analyst Brian Nelson. “Their existing portfolio of aircraft continues to sell very well. The results came in better than expected and I think this is going to continue into their fourth quarter and through the first half of ’08.”

Boeing shares fell $1.23, or 1.3 percent, to $93.72 in late morning trading Wednesday.

Boeing commercial airplanes division saw its operating income climb 46 percent to $945 million in the quarter, while revenue grew 23 percent to $8.3 billion. The division delivered 109 planes and booked 354 gross orders during the quarter.

Operating income at Boeing’s integrated defense systems business fell six percent to $824 million, weighed down by a change in market conditions relating to the Delta II launch vehicle. Revenue rose 3 percent.

For the first nine months of the year, Boeing said its net income more than doubled to $3.04 billion, or $3.92 a share, from $1.23 billion, or $1.57 a share, a year ago. Nine-month revenue grew 11 percent to $48.9 billion from $44 billion a year earlier.

The company boosted its 2007 revenue guidance, while lowering its estimates for 2008 by about six percent.

The company said it expects to earn between $5.05 per share and $5.15 per share in 2007, with revenue of about $66 billion. That’s up from its earlier estimate $4.80 to $4.95 per share on revenue of $65 billion.

But 2008 revenue is expected to be between $67.5 billion and $68.5 billion, down from a range of $71 billion to $72 billion. Earnings per share are expected to hold steady at $5.55 to $5.75 as productivity gains from Boeing’s other units offset costs associated with the Dreamliner delay.

The company announced earlier this month that it would delay its first delivery of the 787 by six months to November or December 2008 because of problems it’s encountered assembling the first few planes.

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

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