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Boeing drags down the Dow on speculation China could single it out in trade war

Boeing shares fell nearly 5% in trading Monday as the trade war intensifying between the U.S. and China put added pressure on the aircraft maker.

The aerospace giant’s stock was responsible for 117 points of the Dow Jones industrial average’s over 600 point drop, making Boeing the largest single contributor to the Dow’s decline among the 30 companies of the index.

Boeing’s fall is “definitely a response to the China trade” dispute, Jefferies analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu told CNBC.

Most of the stock’s drop came after the editor of Chinese newspaper Global Times speculated that the country may single out the aircraft maker in the trade war.

China may “reduce Boeing orders” as one of its retaliatory tactics in the trade war, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said in a tweet. The Global Times is a state-affiliated organization, with close connections to the government. The outlet tends to be more outspoken in contrast to other state media.

Boeing and China have become increasingly important to each other. The aerospace giant’s business is estimated to add more than $1 billion to China’s economic each year, Boeing said in November. About a third of Boeing’s orders for its core 737 Max aircraft are from China, according to Jefferies. Additionally, Boeing expects China’s fleet of commercial aircraft to more than double over the next 20 years.

With more than 4,000 on order, the 737 Max aircraft makes up the majority of Boeing’s backlog of over 5,600 aircraft orders. But the 737 Max has been grounded around the world since March, shortly after the second deadly crash of the aircraft model in only a few months.

“I think, given the 737 Max’s grounding, the dialogue has somewhat changed,” Kahyaoglu said, adding that “the longer the grounding is in place the more pressure it puts” on Boeing.

Sales to China were already shrinking. Kahyaoglu pointed to reports that China did not place a Boeing aircraft order in 2018, which would be “the first time since 2002 that Boeing hasn’t received a Chinese order.”

China has been working on working on its own aircraft to compete with Boeing and Airbus, called the C919, but the program is far behind schedule. Jefferies estimates the first C919 aircraft will not be delivered to a customer until 2021. That gives Boeing some breathing room even as the 737 Max grounding slows both production and deliveries of the aircraft.

“The barriers to entry for this market are very high. There are two suppliers of aircraft … so there aren’t many options longer term,” Kahyaoglu said.

China retaliated in the trade war on Monday morning, hiking tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. imports, beginning June 1. The move comes after President Donald Trump last week raised U.S. tariffs on $200 billion to 25%, up from 10%.

“We’re confident the US and China will continue trade discussions and come to an agreement than benefits both US and Chinese manufacturers and consumers,” a Boeing spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.

The Buckingham Research Group cautioned investors on Boeing’s stock, saying in a note on Monday that the trade war is one of the biggest risks facing the company.

“We remain Neutral and believe that ongoing trade risks and the need for some assurance that MAX issues are resolved causes BA to remain in the penalty box with more downside risk than upside potential,” Buckingham analyst Richard Safran said, referring to the Boeing 737 model that has been grounded worldwide following two crashes.

Boeing is one of the top U.S. companies with revenue from China, which Morgan Stanley said on Monday puts them in a position of “retaliatory tariff risk.”

Shares of Boeing were up 10% this year as of Friday’s close of $354.67.

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