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Boeing share price tops $80 for first time

/ Source: The Associated Press

Boeing Co.’s stock rose to the latest in a series of all-time highs Thursday, boosted in part by two Wall Street upgrades after the jetmaker delivered more commercial aircraft than expected in the first quarter.

The aerospace company, the world’s second-largest commercial airplane manufacturer after Airbus SAS, also announced more new orders that have helped its outlook this week.

Shares in Boeing crossed the $80 threshold for the first time, reaching $80.13 before closing up 71 cents at $79.82 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock is up 37 percent from a year ago.

On Monday, Boeing said it delivered 98 commercial planes in the first quarter, up from 70 in the same period a year ago. The number benefited from deliveries that were supposed to have taken place in the fourth quarter of 2005 but were delayed by an airplane assembly workers’ strike.

Citing the better-than-expected deliveries, Goldman Sachs on Wednesday raised its estimate of first-quarter earnings to 78 cents per share from 71 cents per share, up from 64 cents per share a year ago, and Ragen MacKenzie boosted its estimate to 80 cents per share from 72 cents per share.

Both are cautious about the prospects of Chicago-based Boeing’s big stock surge continuing, however, based on the already-high price and lingering questions about the financial health of its customers in the commercial airplane industry — its second-biggest business behind military contracting.

“Airline revenue growth has been stronger than expected in recent quarters, particularly in the U.S.,” Goldman Sachs analyst Glenn Engel said in a note to investors. “However, we note that U.S. airlines as a whole are likely to be only barely profitable in 2006 and have distressed balance sheets.”

Rising oil prices also are offsetting the improvement in revenues, he said.

In new orders for Boeing, Chinese officials said Thursday that a delegation of 202 Chinese entrepreneurs currently visiting the U.S. plans to order 80 single-aisle planes from the company for a yet-to-be-disclosed sum. On Wednesday, Spain’s Air Europa entered a $1 billion order for 16 737 planes and FL Group’s Icelandair placed an order for two 787 jets listed at about $290 million.