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商业 - 航空和运输

国防业务告急,波音开始反击

Clay Dillow 2014年05月07日

波音是美国第二大国防承包商,目前整体业绩不错,但它的国防业务却面临着多重挑战。不过,它正在全力争取新的大额订单,力求捍卫自己的传统领地。

    波音EA-18G“咆哮者”电子攻击机

    波音公司(Boeing)上周公布了2014年第一季度业绩:公司收入同比增长了8%,营业利润率也实现了上升,同时还上调了全年业绩预期。这个业绩可能会让波音公司和它的投资者无比满意。为了跟上需求的步伐,这家公司提高了波音787和波音737的交货数量,从而使现金流增幅超过了分析师的预期。未完成订单价值3740亿美元,包括5100多架飞机,就算波音从现在开始不再接受新订单(当然不会出现这种情况,第一季度波音又接下了235架商用飞机订单),波音还需要将近10年的时间才能全部完成手头的订单。

    不过,虽然波音公司在上周的业绩报告会上对这个问题一笔带过,但波音的国防、空间和安全(BDS)业务显然没有这么红火。国防业务收入有所下滑,部分原因是波音P-8反潜机的交货量没有达到预期,而且这个机型的生产也不太顺利。随着洛克西德-马丁公司(Lockheed Martin)制造的F-35战斗机开始取代美国各兵种的主力机型(以及美国多个盟友所使用的战斗机),再加上全球范围内大宗订单的全面下降,波音至少要关闭两条主要生产线(C-17运输机和美国海军主力机型F-18),而且至少还有几条生产线将面临压力。波音公司的服务合同及配套收入也会减少,原因是其它现有设备的寿命即将到期。

    国防业务滑坡对波音来说不是特别严重的问题(有几年,国防业务在波音总收入中的比重高达50%)。航空业分析师已经表示,波音的商用飞机业务欣欣向荣,但他们担心国防业务会成为前者的致命弱点。不过,BDS业务并没有坐以待毙。

    航空业独立分析师、航空业咨询公司Brian Foley Associates总裁布莱恩•弗雷说:“波音的多个项目都处于减速状态,有些甚至会停产。它设在长滩的C-17生产线将在明年年中停产,这件事看来已经八九不离十。F-15和F1-8正在减产,而且也有可能停产。同时,人们并不总是明确地把V-22鱼鹰视为长久之计。但我认为,人们要用发展变化的眼光来看待波音的军用飞机业务。它并非一成不变。”

    许多影响波音公司国防业务的因素都不在波音的控制范围内。不过,波音正在削减开支,展开反击。最近几个月,员工超过5.7万人的波音国防业务推出了一些多元化产品,它们和波音赖以成名的传统军用飞机不同。它还向海外买家大力推销自己的现有平台,甚至针对美国国防部(U.S. Department of Defense)看重的新一代多用途战斗机——新型F-35采取了一些行动。波音表示,公司已经投产的EA-18G咆哮者(F-18用于电子战的衍生型号)的电子战能力要超过F-35。

    BDS业务负责业务发展和战略的副总裁克里斯•雷蒙德说:“我们一直都目的明确。我们一直在努力为我们预见到的情况做准备。我们知道,为此我们要在国防和安全领域之内实现多元化发展,而不是在这个领域之外。当然,有些需求和采购方式正在发生调整,我们也正在考察一些非传统领域。”

    这些领域包括能源、水下自主航行器和地面车辆。去年底,波音推出了“幻影獾”多用途四轮军用吉普。这种吉普车可由V-22鱼鹰倾斜旋翼机(波音和贝尔直升机公司(Bell Helicopter)合作开发的产品)搭载并部署,明显偏离了波音的核心——飞机制造业务(此前波音生产的最知名地面车辆可能是参与了后几次阿波罗登月任务的月球车。大家应该能想到,这个产品的销量不是特别大)。

    BDS业务还在考虑通过依托于现有平台的支持性服务来提高收入水平。雷蒙德指出,他们甚至有可能更进一步,“就支持性服务而言,我期待着我们在多元化方面进行一些尝试。有时候,这只是意味着用不同的方式把各项服务组合起来,特别是在国际市场。而在某些领域,我们甚至已经想到可以针对非波音平台开展业务,或者为其他公司制造的飞机提供服务。”

    不过,并不是所有人都相信产品和服务多元化足以让波音保住美国第二大国防承包商的位置——没错,第一名是洛克希德-马丁。设在弗吉尼亚州的航空业咨询机构蒂尔集团(Teal Group)负责分析业务的副总裁理查德•阿伯拉菲亚引用了洛克希德-马丁前首席执行官、美国国防部前副部长诺姆•奥古斯丁的话。奥古斯丁曾说:“纵观航空业历史,多元化并不是全都取得了成功。”

    阿伯拉菲亚说:“我已经不像几年前那么乐观,原因有很多。整体看来,这些公司已经不太可能像以前那样有能力维持利润和收入水平。”

    他指出,国防开支的大环境正在恶化,特别是正在滑坡的旋翼机市场,这些都让人感到担心。此外,C-17、F-18和F-15产量的不断下降乃至停产都有可能妨碍整个BDS业务的发展。

    Boeing (BA) and its investors likely couldn't be happier with the first-quarter 2014 earnings report it issued last week: Revenue rose 8% over the year-ago quarter, operating margins widened, and 2014 guidance got boosted. The U.S. aerospace company ramped up deliveries for its 787 and 737 models to keep pace with demand, which in turn increased cash flow beyond analyst expectations. And a $374 billion backlog of more than 5,100 aircraft guarantees that even if Boeing stopped booking new orders today (and it surely will not; the company booked 235 new commercial jet orders during the quarter) it would take nearly a decade to deliver all the planes on order.

    But though Boeing brass didn't linger on the topic during last week's earnings call, things don't appear quite so rosy in Boeing's Defense, Space & Security division. Defense revenues slipped somewhat, partially due to lower-than-expected deliveries of Boeing's submarine-hunting P-8 Poseidon, for which production isn't going quite as smoothly. With the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 set to replace various workhorse aircraft across the U.S. military (and the fleets of many of its allies) and overall reductions in big-ticket military buys across the globe, Boeing faces the closure of at least two major production lines (the C-17 cargo carrier and U.S. Navy workhorse F-18) and pressure on at least a few more. It also faces reduced service contracts and other ancillary revenues as other legacy systems approach end-of-life status.

    A slowdown in Boeing's defense business is no insignificant matter for the company. (In some years, it accounts for as much as half of the company's total revenues.) Aerospace analysts have voiced concerns that the defense segment is the Achilles heel to the company's otherwise flourishing commercial jet business. But the BDS division isn't taking its punches lying down.

    "There's a confluence of Boeing programs slowing down, if not coming to an end," says Brian Foley, an independent aerospace industry analyst and president of Brian Foley Associates. "It seems pretty firm that the C-17 program will be closing down its Long Beach facility in the middle of next year. The F-15 and F-18 are slowing down and could be coming to an end. The V-22 isn't always a clear long-term survivor in people's minds either. But I think you have to look at the military section of Boeing as an ongoing process. It's not static."

    Many of the factors affecting Boeing's defense business lie outside of its control. Still, the company is retrenching and striking back. In recent months, Boeing's 57,000-strong defense team has introduced products that diversify its portfolio away from the traditional aircraft for which it is known, aggressively shopped its existing platforms to foreign buyers, and even taken a few swings at the new F-35, declaring its existing EA-18G Growler -- a variant of the F-18 suited to electronic warfare -- a more capable electronic warfighter than the U.S. Department of Defense's prized next-generation, all-purpose fighter.

    "It has been purposeful," says Chris Raymond, vice president of business development and strategy for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. "We've been trying to prepare for the environment we saw ahead of us. We knew that would require us not to diversify outside of defense and security but to diversify inside of it. Some needs and buying practices are adjusting, and there are a few areas that are non-traditional that we're taking a look at."

    Those areas include energy, underwater autonomous vehicles, and ground vehicles. Late last year, Boeing unveiled the Phantom Badger, a versatile four-wheeled truck/transport designed to deploy from the cargo bay of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft (a Boeing product in collaboration with Bell Helicopter), marking a noticeable departure from Boeing's core aircraft manufacturing business. (Previously, the company's best-known ground vehicle was likely the Lunar Roving Vehicle that traveled to the moon on several of the later Apollo missions. As you can imagine, Boeing didn't sell very many.)

    The BDS division is also looking at boosting revenue through support services on its existing platforms, Raymond says, and it may move beyond that. "On the support side, looking forward we're trying to diversify a bit," he says. "Sometimes that means just bundling your services together differently, especially internationally. And in some areas we've even looked at where we can do work on non-Boeing platforms or provide services on non-Boeing fleets."

    But not everyone is convinced diversifying products and services will be enough to keep Boeing in its position as the nation's No. 2 defense contractor, behind -- you guessed it -- Lockheed Martin (LMT). Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Virginia-based aerospace consultancy Teal Group, invokes former Lockheed CEO and former undersecretary of the Army Norm Augustine, who once observed that the "industry's record of diversification is unblemished by success."

    "I'm not as optimistic as I was a few years ago for a variety of reasons," Aboulafia says of BDS's near-term prospects. "Their broader ability to sustain the profits and revenue they've been enjoying looks less likely."

    Aboulafia cites the broader softening of the defense spending environment and, in particular, a softening in the rotorcraft segment as reasons for concern. Further, the likely slowing or outright demise of the C-17, F-18, and F-15 production lines threaten to impede the division's overall trajectory.

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