Has the Moment Finally Arrived for Boeing Shares?

Tickers in this article: UAL BA

CHICAGO -- ( TheStreet) - Has the tide finally turned for shares of Boeing (BA) ?

The aircraft maker said Monday that it is now building 787s at the rate of five a month, a big step on the path to its stated goal of 10 a month by late 2013. So far, 83 aircraft have been built and 35 have been delivered. Ten days ago, United (UAL) flew the first intra-U.S. 787 flight .

Now, Boeing shares are at their "moment of reckoning," said BB&T analyst Carter Leake, in an interview. "Having achieved the five per month rate, Boeing has much better information to better assess its ability to move down the learning curve. It's only when one is in a steady groove of production, with a minimum volume, that progress can really be determined."

So far, Leake said, the 787 has been "tracking reasonably well with regard to cost reduction, but all eyes will be on the incremental progress from five to ten per month. If they stumble, shares will come under pressure." Leake has a price target of $86 on the shares, which traded at $73.52, down 17 cents, shortly after noon on Tuesday.

Boeing, a Dow component and the largest U.S. exporter, has long been one of those companies that analysts consistently recommend. The logic is inescapable: The world is hungry for large jet aircraft, yet has only two manufacturers of large jet aircraft. Furthermore, in recent years Boeing has brought several new products, including newer versions of the popular 737 and 777, to market.

Yet shares have disappointed, largely because of delays in the 787 program but also because about half of Boeing revenues are derived from the troubled, politically sensitive defense sector.

Since Jan. 1, 2011, Boeing shares have risen 11% while the S&P 500 has risen 10%. This year, Boeing is down 1% while the S&P is up 10%. This month, Boeing shares have risen 4%, largely because the company raised its full-year guidance on Oct. 24. Since then, the consensus estimate among analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters has risen to $5 per share from $4.73.

In a recent report, S&P Capital IQ analyst Richard Tortoriello said "we expect the production ramp of the 787 to act as a catalyst" for the share price. Additionally, he said, "we view valuations, which are below historical averages, as attractive given our view of rising commercial aircraft production over the next three years."

Tortoriello estimates Boeing sales will increase 19% this year, driven by a 35% increase in the commercial aviation segment, driven by emerging economies in Asia and the Middle East as well as U.S. airlines' desire to replace aging aircraft.

In 2013, Tortoriello is expecting Boeing's revenue to increase 9% driven by 13% growth in the commercial aviation segment. He has a buy rating and an $88 price target, based on an enterprise value-to-EBITDA multiple of 8X his 2012 EBITDA estimate. Boeing's 20-year-historical average is 11.5X EBIDTA.