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Boeing Bet Rides on 787

Editor's Note: Jon D. Markman writes a weekly column for CNBC on MSN Money that is republished here on

Investors admired the ambition, complexity, profitability and market dominance of industry leaders Fannie Mae (FNM) and Intel (INTC - Get Report) all the way up to the point when their earnings forecasts were proven wildly overoptimistic and blew up.

Could the same now happen at Boeing (BA - Get Report)? The parallels are eerie, if not at all perfect. Boeing -- the third-best gainer in the Dow Jones Industrials over the past year -- is priced for perfection, much as the techs and banks were in 2000. And perfection, as we know all too well by now, is rarely attained.

Investors in the European consortium behind Airbus found that out all too well last month when executives had to backtrack from laughable assurances that production of their new super-sized A380 commercial aircraft was on track. The bad news sent the consortium's shares down 25% in a week.

Boeing investors celebrated the Europeans' bad news, figuring it meant new business from frustrated Airbus customers. But really, they should have taken it as a warning, for it is very hard to believe that the U.S. aircraft maker will manage to escape a similar fate with the construction of its own new plane, the 787 "Dreamliner."

Sky-High Optimism

Boeing rarely built a new aircraft on time when the planes were built start to finish in the greater Seattle area. But somehow it has managed to persuade investors that this time -- when much of the plane is being built overseas from hard-to-get materials and organized with a glitchy new software system -- Boeing cannot only keep production on schedule, but actually build planes at a record clip.

A couple of analysts have been sounding the alarm, but have not made much of a dent yet with Boeing bulls. One bearish analyst, David E. Strauss at Swiss-based brokerage UBS, has told clients that the Dreamliner is even more likely to blow deadline than the Airbus A380. "Risk to the 787 production schedule will continue to increase from here as the program heads toward first flight in late summer 2007," he wrote.
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