How Bad Are China’s Tariffs for Boeing?

Apr 4, 2018

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Boeing’s stock is sliding yet again due to fears of a trade war, this time because China hit the US with new tariffs that in part target the American aircraft manufacturing industry.

The US airplane manufacturer’s shares fell by more than 4% as trading opened on Wednesday, and are down about 2% at 2pm New York time, following the announcement that China was slapping $50 billion worth of tariffs on 106 US goods, including “aircraft and other aircraft with an empty weight of more than 15,000 kg but not exceeding 45,000 kg [about 16.5 to 49.6 tons].”

It remains uncertain which Boeing aircraft the 25% tariff would specifically affect. The proposed weight range would include Boeing’s older 737s, but it remains unknown whether Boeing’s newer 737 MAX planes that are just being built and entering service would be affected. The Chinese trade officials’ definition of “empty weight” is not clear — specifically whether they mean operating empty weight, which accounts for crew and some equipment, or the manufacturer’s empty weight, which means solely the aircraft.

Depending on the definition, different Boeing 737 MAX aircraft might be affected.

Industry analysts told The Financial Times that they predicted only Boeing’s smallest new single-aisle jet, the 737 MAX 7, would be affected by the proposed 25% levy, and there are currently no Chinese orders for this jet. Flight Global reported in 2017 that all 65 orders for the MAX 7 were from carriers in North America. Boeing’s website says it has 273 unfulfilled orders from China for 737s, 27 of which are for older 737s, while 246 are for the newer 737 MAX aircraft (although it doesn’t differentiate which types of the MAX).

Other experts are questioning whether Boeing’s MAX 8 would be affected, Reuters reports. The 737 MAX 8 has an operating empty weight of 45,070 kg or about 49.68 tons, Reuters says, citing a Boeing airport document published in August 2017. So, depending on how the definition of “empty weight” is applied, the MAX 8 could be right on the borderline of China’s proposed weight range of 16.5 to 49.6 tons for the tariff.

TPG reached out to Boeing for more information on which of its aircraft might be affected but did not get an immediate response. 

The new tariffs from China, seemingly issued in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods in March, have increased speculation that the US and China are headed toward a full-blown trade war. Following the announcement of the Trump administration’s tariffs in March, Boeing’s stock had its worst month in two years, sliding about 12% over the course of the month and leading experts to speculate that the company could be among the first victims in such a trade war between the two countries.

There is good reason for Wall Street investors to be nervous. Boeing conducts a significant amount of its sales in China. At the end of 2017, it signed a deal to sell 300 planes worth $37 billion to a Chinese aviation group. There is also huge potential for future sales in the Chinese market. Boeing recently predicted China would buy 7,240 commercial aircraft worth $1.1 trillion between now and  2036, and the International Air Transport Association estimates that China would be the biggest aviation market by 2024. In 2016, the US exported $15 billion worth of aircraft to China, according to US trade data.

The start date for China’s new tariffs has not yet been announced. As for the tariffs’ effects on airplane passengers, industry experts have told TPG that the levies would likely have a negligible affect on airfares, at least in the immediate future.

Featured image by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

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