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Dec 29, 2016

Too much debt and government aid: Why Bombardier still hasn’t won over all its skeptics

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Bombardier (BBDb.TO) started 2016 on the brink. On Thursday, with the calendar year winding down, it announced its biggest rail order of the year: a framework contract with Austrian Federal Railways for up to 300 of its Talent 3 trains. At list price, the total deal is valued at US$1.9 billion.  

"This framework agreement represents a huge success for Bombardier," said Christian Diewald, Bombardier Transportation’s managing director for Austria, in a statement.

The contract comes after a tumultuous year for the Montreal-based plane and train maker that saw its stock plunge as low as 72 cents on Feb. 8 amid balance sheet concerns, a dearth of firm CSeries orders and uncertainty about its negotiations for financial support from the federal government.

Since then, Bombardier has landed some marquee customers for its CSeries jet program. In February, Air Canada signed a letter of intent to purchase 45 CS300 jets, plus options for 30 additional jets. The letter of intent was firmed up in June; if all options are exercised the deal will be worth US$6.3 billion at list price.

“This order is a major statement of support for Canada’s aerospace industry and will help support thousands of CSeries related jobs,” Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare said at the time in a press release. “It also serves as an important catalyst for renewed interest and subsequent orders.”


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The Bombardier TALENT 3 train the company sold to Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB). (Image courtesy of

The other big name to add its name to the CSeries order book this year was Delta Air Lines, which signed a US$5.6-billion firm order in April for 75 CS100 aircraft, plus options to purchase 50 additional jets.

Over the course of the year, analyst sentiment on Bombardier has improved as the stock climbed 174 per cent off the February low.  Over the course of the year, Bay Street sentiment on Bombardier’s stock has improved. As of Dec. 29, there are 10 Buy recommendations, 11 Holds and one Sell.  A year ago, there were four Buys, 13 Holds and three Sells.

Nevertheless, the company still has its share of critics.

Toronto Mayor John Tory recently lambasted Bombardier over its performance delivering next-generation streetcars to the city.

“Would we even ask those people to bid based on the fact that they just haven’t delivered streetcars to us on anywhere near the schedule?,” Tory told BNN in an interview earlier this month. 

And there are also professional money managers who still haven’t seen enough of a turnaround to convince them Bombardier’s stock is a worthwhile investment. 

GlobeInvest Capital Management CEO Christine Poole told BNN on Thursday she’s not comfortable with the state of Bombardier’s balance sheet, which was weighed down with US$8.96 billion of long-term debt as of the end of September. 

Poole also cited the need to see more CSeries customers line up. Since the firm orders with Delta and Air Canada were announced earlier in 2016, the only buyer to step up with a firm order was the Tanzanian Government Flight Agency, which announced in December it will buy two CS300 jets. 

Poole also noted the overhang from Bombardier’s dual-class share structure and the fact it has already turned to the Quebec government for assistance and it’s still trying to line up support from Ottawa.

“The stock has recovered from a lot of difficulties earlier on,” she said, while noting GlobeInvest previously held the stock for clients but sold the exposure about a year ago. “But the company just has too much debt still at this point on its balance sheet, and I guess you never really want to own a company that requires assistance.”