Bombardier Inc. is anticipating a bounce back in both revenue and pretax profit next year as it cranks up sales of rail equipment and hunts for new C Series orders while the benefits of a deep cost-cutting effort take hold.
But it is still pushing for an investment from the Canadian government to help launch a yet-unknown new aircraft or counter any surprise blows that might blind side the company's finances.
The stock jumped 3 per cent to $1.97 in Toronto trading.
Alain Bellemare, Bombardier's chief executive officer, made the comments as his senior management team met investors and analysts in New York City Thursday morning. He said the company is seeking public money to help fund its next aircraft project, noting that after 2018, the company won't have any new plane programs in its development pipeline.
That is raising the prospect of Bombardier's technical and engineering talent bolting out the door. Analysts such as AltaCorp Capital's Chris Murray believe the brain drain has already started.
"It's not the same discussion today as we were having a year or so ago," Mr. Bellemare said in an interview, adding that a lot has changed since the company made its initial $1-billion (U.S.) investment request for its flagship C Series airliner. "We need to know that we have the right level of liquidity to launch a new platform. And all of this would create thousands of jobs in Canada. And they would be great jobs."
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters he remained hopeful that an agreement with the company could be reached before the federal budget in March. Talks have dragged on for more than a year without a deal. There is no final proposal on the table, according to sources.
Although Bombardier still faces major challenges, the skies are brighter for the company than they were a year ago. A recent bond sale and other efforts have put the manufacturer in solid financial position, said chief financial officer John Di Bert. It will have about $4.5-billion in cash and credit at the end of 2016.
"Bombardier is a growth story," Mr. Di Bert said. "We've already put in place the actions that will drive a lower cost structure."
Mr. Bellemare has pulled the company back from the brink of bankruptcy as it struggled to develop three new planes with diminishing resources. He's now trying to rebuild earnings amid concern about production delays for its flagship C Series airliner, ongoing softness in the market for luxury aircraft and tough competition bearing down on its rail business.
Revenue next year will grow by a low-single-digit percentage after falling in each of the past two years, Bombardier predicts. That's less than some analysts were expecting and it's the result of lower sales of both business and commercial aircraft, where orders for regional jets and turboprops remain scarce. By 2020, when the C Series achieves its full production and profit potential, the company believes it can generate sales of $25-billion.
The plane maker's forecast calls for earnings before interest and taxes of between $530-million and $630-million for 2017, a roughly 50-per-cent improvement over 2016. Profit will be fuelled largely by an aggressive cost-cutting and restructuring effort launched by Mr. Bellemare last year. In the past 11 months alone, the company has announced the elimination of 14,500 jobs.
"Management is clearly controlling the controllables as their cost reduction initiatives begin to take hold," RBC Capital Markets analyst Walter Spracklin said in a research note. "The improving cost profile sets the stage for higher operating leverage when demand levels pick up."
Since taking over the CEO role from Pierre Beaudoin early last year, Mr. Bellemare has refreshed Bombardier's entire senior executive slate with new hires such as Fred Cromer, an aerospace and leasing specialist with deep understanding of how airlines make purchase decisions. Six of the eight executives who presented to investors Thursday were not working for the company at the start of 2015.
Each offered an expectant assessment of the business, Thursday.
Mr. Cromer said he was confident C Series supplier Pratt & Whitney will solve its engine delivery issues and reaffirmed his belief Bombardier will deliver 30 to 35 C Series planes next year. David Coleal, head of business aircraft, highlighted a major opportunity to boost the service and repair business for luxury jets. Jim Vounassis, vice-president of operations strategy, noted Bombardier is in the process of narrowing its supplier base from 10,000 firms to 2,000 in a bid to leverage its scale and simplify its supplier relationships.
In the company's train business, a massive reorganization is under way. The unit is trying to boost profits by winning a higher share of orders from its five existing product platforms while bidding more on higher-margin signalling, systems and services work. Profit margins for the business will come in at 7.5 per cent next year, right in line with targets set by new investor Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.
In its guidance, Bombardier said it expects to spend $250-million to $300-million in 2017 on restructuring efforts to improve its operations. It will take a charge in that range as a special item. The plane maker also said it expects to burn between $750-million and $1-billion in cash next year, a significant year-over-year improvement in free cash flow usage as development costs on the C Series plane decline. The key thing to watch for the C Series now is Bombardier's ability to scale up production of the aircraft without major problems while building the order book.
Bombardier also reaffirmed a previous forecast to break even on a free cash flow basis by 2018. Starting in 2019, it expects to have the ability to spend up to $1-billion on developing new products.
The multinational tapped the public markets last month for the first time in nearly two years, selling $1.4-billion (U.S.) in bonds due in 2021 at an interest coupon of 8.75 per cent. The proceeds were used to pay off two sets of senior notes due in 2018, giving Mr. Bellemare and his team breathing room to execute his plan.
The company said it will likely deliver 135 business jets and as many as 85 commercial airplanes next year. That's fewer than analysts like Fadi Chamoun at Bank of Montreal were expecting.
"Demand in aerospace is weak, which we think is holding back the pace of profit improvement," Mr. Chamoun said in a research note, noting the company's cash usage remains high.
Mr. Bellemare said he was comfortable now with Bombardier's portfolio of products, adding any asset sales or other strategic moves would generate upside for company finances. Analysts say Learjet, the company's small business jet unit, could be divested if a buyer is found.
With a file from Bill Curry