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Profits from Paris: The Investment Trends at This Week’s Air Show

This year’s Paris Air Show, conducted June 19-25, witnessed a robust roster of sales to passenger airlines that are optimistic about economic growth and willing to spend billions of dollars for new aircraft. The world’s military services also lined up to buy the latest aircraft. Below, I examine what it all means for investors seeking growth plays in the booming aerospace/defense sector.

With 2,300 international exhibitors, 150,000 trade visitors, 30 national pavilions and 300 official delegations, the biennial gathering at the Paris–Le Bourget Airfield is the world’s largest and most prestigious showcase for commercial and military aircraft.

I’ve closely covered the aerospace and defense sectors for more than three decades — as such, I’ve attended the Paris Air Show numerous times. I didn’t make the trip this year (which greatly disappointed my Francophile wife Carole, who usually accompanies me with credit card in hand). However, as I write this, one person who’s attending the show is my colleague and friend Richard Aboulafia, one of the most sought-after aerospace/defense experts in the world.

Richard is vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, a consulting firm based in Fairfax, Virginia. This week, I called Richard in Paris, to pick his brain about the ramifications of the Paris Air Show this year for individual investors.

An American (Express) in Paris…

That’s Richard, to your left. Corporate chieftains and Wall Street hedge fund managers pay him thousands of dollars per hour for his advice. I caught Richard this week on his smartphone, while he was unwinding over an early evening apéritif at a bistro on the Rue de Rivoli.

The upshot of Richard’s observations: The world’s mega-cap aircraft makers such as Boeing (NYSE: BA) are in the best position to benefit over the long haul from the aircraft sector’s resurgence.

The bonanza of new orders in Paris also is good news for Personal Finance Growth Portfolio holdings Astronics (NSDQ: ATRO), a small-cap maker of aerospace electronics, and Honeywell International (NYSE: HON), a major supplier of aircraft avionics. Also positioned to benefit is PF Fund Portfolio holding SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF (NYSE: XAR).

AeroVironment (NSDQ: AVAV), a drone maker that I featured in my June 2 issue, and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), the world’s largest defense contractor, belong on the roster of companies that are poised to profit from industry tailwinds.

Every Paris Air Show features an epic duel for primacy between Boeing and its European arch-rival Airbus (OTC: EADSY). Boeing’s successes at the show this week, combined with other contract wins earlier this year, put the Chicago-based company on track to retain its title as world’s largest aircraft maker by revenue, with Airbus as a close number two.

Here are the highlights of my question-and-answer session with Richard:

What’s the big news at the Paris Air Show this year?

The jetliner business is holding up really well. Despite the grim world economic and political headlines, airline traffic growth is superb. Orders at the show reflect this confidence, with much better numbers than expected. Instead of a seven-year cycle, we’re basically witnessing a 14-year double cycle. That indicates stronger than usual corporate earnings momentum for aircraft makers.

From an investment standpoint, what are the most significant trends that you’ve seen unfold at the show?

There are generally better jetliner delivery numbers coming than expected. Aftermarket demand growth looks stronger than expected too, which helps smaller suppliers. Also, the production ramp for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter looks finally on track. The F-35 will be a cash cow for Lockheed Martin far into the future. In general, military export demand looks quite strong.

How did Boeing fare?

Boeing was quite clear about the imminent arrival of its next jet, a twin aisle middle market (220-250 seat) product with largely composite structures. The company is moving close to a product launch, probably next year. But Airbus will likely offer a major derivative growth version of its single aisle A321neo product.

It’s just a generally healthier market environment than anyone expected, particularly for jetliners. That’s very good news for aircraft OEMs. It’s also good news for suppliers of electronics.

What’s the status of this year’s dogfight for orders between Boeing and Airbus?

It remains a steady duopoly. Airbus has an advantage in single aisles, with Boeing enjoying an advantage in twin aisles. Since barriers to market entry remain quite high, both companies enjoy strong and enduring positions.

But this show, so far, has seen stronger order numbers for Boeing. It’s been a very prosperous show for the company.

Did drones make a splash yet again at Paris?

Yes, drones are on ample display this week at the show and they’re generating a big buzz with attendees. The interesting news about drones is that big drones are less consequential. The fast growth is likely to happen in small consumer drones. The civil market offers even greater opportunities than the military sector. Civilian drones are increasingly involved in more and more industries; growing demand for these machines from consumers and businesses is a long-term trend with considerable staying power.

What would you tell anyone who’s looking to invest right now in the aerospace/defense sector?

The defense industry remains in a great position, particularly for the usual blue chips such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell, and General Electric. GE has been displaying at the show its latest engine technology, for quieter and more efficient aircraft engines. GE should thrive in 2017 and beyond, as companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing increasingly need GE’s engines.

Got a question, idea or comment? Send me an email: — John Persinos

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