Beleaguered Bombardier Inc. investors are being tested again.
Following a preliminary ruling from the U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday night, Bombardier now faces punitive countervailing duties on planes imported into the United States.
The shares fell right on cue, tumbling 7.5 per cent on Wednesday. They closed in Toronto at $2.10, down 17 cents.
But for investors who don't mind taking a risk with an unpopular bet, there appears to be a good reason to side with Bombardier here: Its new C Series planes, apparently, are being noticed.
Bombardier's stock had already been battered by cost overruns and production delays associated with the development of its C Series planes, the fuel-efficient line of regional jets that Bombardier finally began to deliver about a year ago.
The stock has also been weighed down by a long list of other concerns. There was the company's request for government financial aid, the corruption investigation by Canadian and Swedish authorities, and the planned merger of Siemens AG and Alstom SA's rail operations, which raises questions about Bombardier's own rail division's ability to compete.
Now, faced with punishing U.S. duties on the new planes, the pain might not be over.
This latest setback, which began when mighty Boeing Co. complained earlier this year that it believed Bombardier received unfair subsidies on the sale of some C Series planes, raises questions about Bombardier's ability to make any progress on sales in the United States and elsewhere.
But Boeing's complaint and the Commerce Department's supportive ruling also suggests that the Canadian company has scored a significant victory with its new planes. Why else would Boeing even notice?
Let's start with the reaction to the C Series planes: By most accounts, fliers and airlines like the alternative to similar-sized planes made by Boeing and Airbus (737s and A320s, respectively).
In an article about mid-sized jets published earlier this year, The Economist – a neutral-enough source on this matter – said that airlines like the Bombardier planes because they are reliable and easy on fuel, while passengers appreciate the quiet and comfortable cabins. As well, the article suggests that Bombardier, despite costly production delays, is by no means behind rising competition from manufacturers outside the United States.
Sales of Russia's Sukhoi Superjets are lagging sales of the C Series planes, and are mostly confined to airlines in Russia. And Brazil's Embraer E2 planes aren't expected to enter service until 2018 at the earliest. Same goes for China's Comac planes.
Investors should also note that Bombardier's delivery of C Series planes is accelerating. Bombardier management expects the company will deliver about 30 aircraft in fiscal 2017, up from just three deliveries in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, there are 360 orders, as of June 30, and this backlog is growing. Bombardier shares bounced 6.1 per cent on Tuesday, following a report that the company is in talks with China's three largest airlines.
The success is starting to appear in some of Bombardier's financial numbers (if you're okay with numbers that are less concrete than, say, actual profit).
In its second-quarter results, released at the end of July, Bombardier reported an adjusted profit of 2 cents per share, its best quarterly showing in two years and well ahead of analysts' estimates.
As well, margins are growing fatter in the transportation unit, which is leading to greater confidence in management's full-year target for EBIT (or earnings before interest and taxes), a measure of profitability.
Does this add up to an obvious buying opportunity?
Umm, here's where the risks kick in.
Bombardier hasn't produced an annual profit since fiscal 2013. Without recent government financial help, the company may have failed.
And with respect to the Boeing complaint, it is unclear at this point the staying power of the Commerce Department's preliminary ruling (a final ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission is expected in 2018). The impact the ruling will have on U.S. C Series sales is also unclear.
But there's a reason to take a chance on this stock after it's been skewered: If Boeing sees the C Series planes as a competitive threat, then perhaps investors should do the same.