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Boeing profit up, but guidance disappoints

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Plane-maker Boeing Co (BA-N) reported a quarterly profit that topped Wall Street forecasts on stronger commercial airplane deliveries, but its 2012 earnings forecast was lower than expected.

Shares of the world's largest aerospace and defense company slipped on what some experts may consider a disappointing earnings outlook.

"I think the way it reads is guidance is down," said Alex Hamilton, managing director with EarlyBirdCapital. "I don't see anything else bad.

"The (earnings) beat seems to be strong performance, especially within commercial."

Boeing on Wednesday reported a fourth-quarter net profit of $1.4 billion US, or $1.84 per share, up from $1.2 billion, or $1.56 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding a favorable tax settlement of 52 cents per share, the company earned $1.31 per share, beating an average Wall Street forecast of $1.01, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company, which competes with Airbus for orders, said revenue rose to $19.6 billion from $16.6 billion.

Revenue for its commercial planes division increased by 31 percent to $10.7 billion. Revenue for its defense, space and security business rose 4 percent to $8.5 billion.

Boeing delivered 477 planes last year. The company gets paid for airplanes at delivery.

Boeing said it expects to earn between $4.05 and $4.25 per share in 2012 on revenue of $78 billion to $80 billion. The forecast includes a higher pension expense amounting to 83 cents per share.

Analysts, on average, expect 2012 earnings of $4.96 per share. It was not immediately clear if the analysts' estimate was comparable to the Boeing forecast.

The company, which boasted an order backlog worth $356 billion, splits its operations almost equally between commercial airplanes and defense programs, which face government spending constraints.

"We enter 2012 with renewed momentum and proven business and product strategies," Chief Executive Jim McNerney said in a statement.

"Our priorities for the year are to continue with disciplined increases in production rates for our commercial airplane customers," he said.

The company lost the 2011 commercial airplane order race to Airbus.

Boeing has pledged to strike back in 2012 with sales of its revamped narrowbody, the 737 MAX. The plane features a new, fuel-efficient engine and is due to enter service in 2017.

Boeing won its first firm orders for the MAX in December as part of a $19 billion deal with Southwest Airlines (LUV-N). The company said it had more than 1,000 orders and commitments for the MAX at year-end. Boeing has said the figure could climb to 1,500 by the end of 2012.

The MAX competes with the Airbus A320neo, which also has a new engine. Airbus overtook Boeing in the global passenger jet market in 2003.

Boeing is working to boost production rates on its commercial airplane programs, including the 787 Dreamliner, its brand-new, long-delayed, carbon-composite aircraft. The plane saw its first delivery in September after three years of delays.

The company aims to produce 10 787s per month by the end of 2013. But many aviation industry experts believe that target is too ambitious.

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