MINNEAPOLIS -- Quicker deliveries of Boeing's commercial airplanes helped it report a 20-percent jump in fourth-quarter profits, and offset sluggish growth in its defense business.
Boeing delivered 128 commercial aircraft, up from 116 a year ago. Profits from those planes jumped 56 percent, and revenue rose 31 percent. It delivered three of its new 787s last year, and nine new 747-8 superjumbo jets.
The results bode well for Boeing, which expects its 2012 jet deliveries to put it ahead of European rival Airbus for the first time in 10 years. Boeing plans to deliver 585 to 600 commercial planes this year, while Airbus has predicted deliveries of 570 commercial jets.
Boeing Co. posted net income of $1.39 billion on Wednesday, or $1.84 per share. It had help from a tax benefit of 52 cents per share. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected $1 per share. Revenue was $19.56 billion, also better than expected.
While Boeing's profits from defense rose 6 percent in the fourth quarter, and revenue was up 4 percent, defense contractors are just beginning to see what is expected to be a major slowdown in military spending in the U.S. and Europe. Boeing believes its defense revenue will fall roughly 5 percent this year.
Boeing and other defense contractors are moving to adjust. Boeing said earlier this month that it would close a defense plant in Wichita, Kan., which employs 2,160 people. Closing the plant angered Kansas lawmakers, who had worked to help Boeing get a contract to make a new aerial refueling tanker for the Air Force, with some of the work to be done in Wichita. Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney said Boeing had to close the plant because of the "serious surgery on defense programs" planned by Washington.
Boeing said it bid aggressively for the tanker, although profits are expected be thin. McNerney said he does not believe Boeing's contract requires the tanker work to be done in Wichita.
"The Air Force has pressed us for a very good deal, and they're leaving it to us for the decision on where and how to produce it," he said on a conference call.
Boeing forecast profit of $4.05 to $4.25 per share in 2012. Analysts had been expecting a profit of $4.90 per share. Not counting 83 cents per share in higher-than-expected pension expense and other one-time items, Boeing estimates adjusted profit of $5.06 to $5.26 per share.
Revenue is forecast to be $78 billion to $80 billion. Analysts expect $78.45 billion.
Boeing shares fell as much as 3 percent in early trading on Wednesday, but they closed 46 cents higher at $75.82.