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Aerospace industry taxis out for take-off

As a part time aviation buff, I probably take more note than others of the comings and goings at the Paris Air Show. The mood this year was very upbeat, with European Civil Aerospace very much in the ascendency.

Although demand remains healthy, the very nature of the industry structure means there are a relative a small number of major manufacturers. This doesn’t mean the manufacturers can monopolise – far from it. Pricing remains competitive in civil aviation, and means that company boardrooms have a constant battle to maintain margin.

After ferrying new French President Macron to open the Paris Air Show, Airbus (EPA: AIR) announced a deal for 100 single-aisle A320neo planes in its first big move, a real coup considering the firm is constantly battling US giant Boeing for orders amid burgeoning competition from China. This will create years of work for the global workforce. It’s thought that the firm had firm commitments for some $11bn worth of planes.

Not to be outdone, Boeing (NYSE: BA) unveiled plans for a newer and bigger version of its 737 Max aircraft, more or less declaring war on Airbus in the market for narrow-body passenger jets.

Boeing announced firm orders for more than 45 planes worth some $5.4bn. Buyers included Ryanair, China’s Okay Airways and the Aviation Capital Group leasing company. Pledges for a further 83 planes could be worth as much as $9.3bn.

However, with huge order backlogs for both firms, new orders aren’t perhaps the all important share price drivers that some might think. Airbus has accused Boeing of discounting narrow-body prices to win back market share, putting downward pressure on its suppliers. In addition aviation technology group Safran (EPA: SAF) has accused Pratt & Whitney, owned by United Technologies Corp (NYSE: UTX) of discounting engines in competition against the General Electric / Safran LEAP engine.

While it can be argued that the CA aftermarket industry offers greater upside risk than the aircraft manufacturers themselves, the low oil price means it makes greater economic sense to keep older planes in service, providing a welcome boost for the industry future. This view is lent further credence by upbeat forecasts from several companies, including UTC, Aero Systems, GE and Honeywell, who all said their 2017 aftermarket sales could be better than expected. And with the number of new planes coming off warranty, this looks set to continue.

So in summary, investing in the aircraft manufacturers directly, or the aftermarket industry looks to be a fairly safe place for your money. Emerging markets continue to fulfil the aircraft sales quota, while maintaining planes out of warranty is looking increasingly lucrative for the future. It might even be said that rather than taxiing out to the runway, the industry is awaiting clearance for take-off!

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