Boeing downgraded by Barclays on survey showing flyers will avoid 737 Max

Mike Blake | Reuters
A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California, U.S., March 26, 2019.

Barclays lowered its rating of Boeing shares to equal weight from overweight on Tuesday, saying the firm's survey of airline passengers found that many people will avoid the 737 Max "for an extended period" once the grounded aircraft is flying again.

"In order to gauge perception of the 737 MAX, we surveyed 1,765 fliers in N America and Europe, reflecting a broad mix of age groups, income levels and frequency of airline travel," Barclays said in a note to investors.

"Nearly half won't fly MAX for year or more." Barclays said. "If given the choice between a MAX and another aircraft type on otherwise identical flights, 52% would choose the other aircraft type."

Boeing shares fell 1.3% in premarket trading from Monday's close of $371.60 a share.

Regulators around the world, including the Federal Aviation Administration, grounded the plane in mid-March after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max. That disaster came five months after a Lion Air Max crashed in Indonesia. A total of 346 people died in the crashes.

Boeing is working on a software update for 737 Max that the company hopes will resolve the issues with the system that appears to be central to how the crashes happened. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said during the company's first-quarter conference call that Boeing is working with the FAA on a certification flight of the 737 Max, the next step in the process to returning the jet to the air. He said that the flight is "in the near term."

Despite Muilenburg's recent optimism, Barclays was unconvinced.

"We expect the recovery of 737 MAX production to take longer than expected," Barclays said. "We think the production rate recovery will be slower to come through than anticipated as we believe the airlines are unlikely to take aircraft as quickly as prior to the grounding."

Barclays also lowered its price target on Boeing's stock to $367 a share from $417 a share.

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