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Boeing shares jump on strong fourth-quarter results, 2017 forecast

Boeing Co's logo is seen above the front doors of its largest jetliner factory in Everett, Washington, U.S. January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Alwyn Scott

By Alwyn Scott

(Reuters) - Boeing Co posted quarterly profit and operating cash that beat analysts' estimates, and promised an even better performance in 2017, thanks to "relentless" cost cutting, rising productivity and U.S. President Donald Trump's pro-business agenda.

Boeing (BA.N) stock jumped nearly 5 percent to $168.50 on Wednesday after the company said it expects to generate a record $10.75 billion in operating cash this year.

The sum is up from a record $10.5 billion in 2016 and well above the $10.4 billion that analysts had forecast for 2017, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The Chicago-based aerospace and defense company forecast 2017 core earnings of $9.10 to $9.30 a share, which exclude some pension and other costs, up from $7.24 in 2016.

Cost-cutting and productivity gains fueled Boeing's strong performance and forecast, and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg said he sees no signs of a slowdown on that front.

"This will be a relentless effort going forward," he said on a conference call, referring to Boeing's efficiency drive.

"While we've made some strong strides over the last couple of years, and you see it reflected in the performance, we have much more ahead of us than what's behind us."

Orders for new jetliners have slowed sharply after peaking in 2014. Boeing and rival Airbus (AIR.PA) have focused on streamlining factories to lower costs and drive profits.

Boeing has also benefited from lower costs for parts for its 787 as the plane reaches key production milestones. It delivered its 500th 787 in December.

Boeing expects to deliver between 760 and 765 commercial aircraft in 2017, topping 748 deliveries in 2016, likely enough to keep the title of world's biggest plane maker.

Boeing said its outlook showed confidence in its ability to continue smooth operating performance and cost-cutting while raising plane output.

Some analysts questioned whether the cash performance will last into 2018, after Boeing cuts production of its 777 by 40 percent this year, begins assembly of the successor 777X model and goes into full production of the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker.

Boeing said it took an aftertax tanker-related charge of $201 million in the fourth quarter due to initial production problems.

"And that's not assuming any change in end-market demand, where trends have arguably been weakening," Robert Stallard, an analyst at Vertical Research Partners, wrote in a note to clients.

Boeing said deliveries of its smaller 737 and 737 MAX models will make up for the decline in 777 production. And it suggested the upward trend in performance won't falter.

"Over the remainder of the decade, we continue to expect to see revenue, earnings, and cash flow growth," Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith said on the call. The forecast includes a planned increase in the 787 production rate, which has been in question as sales have slowed.

Muilenburg said recent meetings with President Donald Trump's show a pro-business attitude that should help Boeing.

"I give a lot of credit here," he said. "President Trump has had business leaders at the table. He's listening, he's engaging and is making decisions that will help us grow the economy and ultimately grow U.S. manufacturing jobs."

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott in Seattle; Additional reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Jeffrey Benkoe)