In a brief update ahead of its AGM later in the day, BAE Systems confirmed that whilst the Group remains subject to geopolitical uncertainties, the guidance provided in February's full year results remains unchanged.
The group expects underlying earnings per share to grow by mid-single digit percentage this year. While BAE is confident of delivering over £3bn in free cash flow over 2019-21, the phasing of receipts and required spending means net debt is likely to rise slightly year on year.
The shares were little moved on the news.
BAE makes military equipment. The MoD is a big client, but it also has long-standing relationships with the US and Saudi Arabian governments.
Defence markets have hardly been booming in recent years. But BAE has seen several large orders finally come through. Qatar, Canada, and Australia have called on BAE to boost their air force and navy, and President Trump has ramped up US defence spending.
That's not to say it'll be plain sailing from here. Trump has been known to change his mind on policy, while international condemnation of the Saudi Arabian government over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi led to speculation that BAE's multi-billion dollar deal with its Air Force could be under threat. We'll be keeping an eye on the planned deal to sell The Kingdom a further 48 Typhoon aircraft.
While the US President may still be fond of hulking great machines that make big bangs, the nature of modern warfare has changed the landscape. A laser guided missile is little use against a cyber-threat, and cutting edge jet fighters are only really necessary if your opponent has them too.
Defence companies will never be redundant, we fear, but they may need to update their armoury. That explains why BAE is investing in its Cyber & Intelligence business, which encompasses both national and commercial cyber security. It's not yet making a substantial contribution to group profit, but if all goes to plan it'll be a growth driver in the future.
Cash flow from the core business has proven rather lumpy of late, so BAE will need this to improve if it's to hit its target of £3bn+ in free cash in the next three years.
However, we still think BAE offers good income-paying potential. The multi-billion pound order book provides excellent revenue visibility, while the balance sheet looks robust, despite the sizeable pension deficit adding an unwanted burden.
The shares offer investors a prospective yield of 4.9% this year, and analysts expect the dividend and earnings to increase in the coming years, although of course there are no guarantees.
Full year results details (21 February 2019)
Reported sales dipped slightly to £18.4bn, as extra US business was more than offset by lower Typhoon production. The non-repeat of a £384m impairment against Cyber & Intelligence last year has helped reported profits rise. However, underlying cash profits as measured by earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) were 2.3% lower at £1.9bn.
Cyber & Intelligence EBITA nearly doubled to £111m despite a weaker top line, as cost reduction plans kicked in. The Electronic Systems business also delivered higher EBITA, up from £541m to £606m as a result of F-35 programme and higher classified activity.
In Air, completed Typhoon production activity on European, Saudi and Oman contracts led reported sales down 7% to £6.7bn. With margin also dropping, cash profits fell 11.1% to £859m.
US Platforms & Services underlying sales growth of 5% was behind expectations, and the group took impairments against commercial shipbuilding. Cash profits fell too, down from £237m to £210m.
Maritime EBITA dipped 16.7% to £209m. While the Dreadnought submarine and Type 26 programmes continue to ramp-up, Carrier trading was at a more conservative level than planned.
The group's net debt position rose to £904m, as a result of lower operating cash flows and a slight increase in capital expenditure, to £464m. The net pension deficit reduced by £100m to £3.9bn.
New contract wins included a £5.1bn Typhoon and Hawk programme for Qatar, a £3.2bn servicing contract in Saudi Arabia and £1bn in US ship repair deals. Total order intake rose 39.6% to a record £28.3bn. In turn, this helped BAE's order backlog rise to £48.4bn.
The final dividend was 13.2p per share, helping the full year payout rise 2% to 22.2p.
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