Boeing

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says the strike that began Saturday will likely continue for at least a month and could cost the company more than 30 cents a share.

"Right now we're sort of in a cooling-off period," said Boeing CFO James Bell, speaking at an investor conference Wednesday.

Bell acknowledged that the two sides must settle an abiding conflict over outsourcing. "We've always had language in the contract that gives them the opportunity to bid for work," he said. "We need to make sure we have a process in place that allows us to put the work where it can best be done."

The last time the International Association of Machinists walked out on Boeing, in 2005, the strike lasted 24 days. The current strike "would have a more severe impact than the last strike, which was about 30 cents," Bell said, because production rates are 50% higher and margins are also higher.

In the third quarter a year ago, Boeing reported net income of $1.43 a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters are currently estimating $1.38 a share this year, with a range of $1.08 to $1.55. It's unclear if the strike has been factored in to all of the estimates. Boeing shares were recently down 3.2%.

While the strike threatens earnings, Boeing appears to benefit from the Pentagon's decision, announced Wednesday, to delay a decision on a $35 billion Air Force tanker contract until the next administration.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress a delay would provide a "cooling off," period, given the intense competition between Boeing and a team that includes

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and Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence and Space, which was awarded the contract earlier this year.

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Subsequently, Boeing protested the award, and a Government Accountability Office review found major flaws in the way it was awarded. The Pentagon reopened the bidding in August, but Boeing threatened to drop out, saying it needed more time.

However, Bell said the delay has a downside. "It's unfortunate we're going to put more strain on the existing tankers," many of which are about 50 years old. However, he said, "There needs to be significant time for both competitors to put together their best offer."

In a prepared statement, EADS Chief Executive Louis Gallois said the company was disappointed, but said "we have a contract and will seek an appropriate conclusion to that contract."

In a report, Bank of America analyst Harry Nourse suggested the presidential contest between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., could influence the outcome. In 2004, McCain played a role in halting a deal between the Pentagon and Boeing, saying Airbus had not been allowed to compete.

"Given McCain's history in regard to this program, one might handicap a slight advantage to Northrop/EADS should he be elected," Nourse wrote. "If Obama wins, you could see some implementation of the 'Buy America' philosophy, which might favor Boeing."