City’s biggest employer feeling stronger, more expansive

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Executives at Spirit AeroSystems sounded confident in the company’s strengthening financial performance during a third-quarter conference call with analysts Tuesday.

Revenue for the quarter was up $1.71 billion from the same quarter last year, a 7 percent increase.

Net income was down sharply, but that reflected the fall-off from a quarter in 2015 that recorded a large one-time tax benefit. Operating income, which reflects the profit from ongoing operations, was up 11 percent from a year ago.

President and CEO Tom Gentile told analysts that the company board felt so positive about the company’s long-term prospects that it approved its first-ever dividend, at 10 cents per share. He said the goal is to raise that in the future.

The company has worked for years to dig itself out from high costs and unprofitability caused by overbidding and overspending in the years following its creation a decade ago.

Gentile also said the board felt the company’s share price remained undervalued and authorized another $600 million share buy-back program.

Investors on Tuesday rewarded the company by driving the stock up by more than 7 percent to close at $54.

In the quarter, Spirit marked its delivery to Boeing of key components for the 500th 787 Dreamliner. Spirit builds the fully integrated forward fuselage, engine pylons, and fixed and moveable leading edges.

The improved performance is driven by growing sales opportunities as well as a years-long program of driving down costs, Gentile said.

There is good growth in many of the lines the company builds components for, Gentile said. The 737 line will move from 42 per month now to 47 per month by early next year, and to 52 per month and then 57 per month in coming years.

But the company is going after new work as well, such as at Airbus, where it signed a contract last quarter.

“The relationship has improved,” Gentile said. “They are asking us to bid on a number of new work packages, and so as we look at more fuselage, wing and propulsion, all three of those are areas of interest … we’re going to bid aggressively to win some of those work packages.”

In addition, he said, the company would look at acquisitions of Tier II and III aerostructure suppliers.

“If we do look at (mergers and acquisitions) it will have to be something that targets a strategic priority, something like getting us into a low-cost country, expanding work with some key suppliers or moving perhaps into military,” he said. “But anything we do would have to meet our return threshold and be better than alternative uses of the cash.”

In cost cutting, chief financial officer Sanjay Kapoor told analysts that the company has focused on labor and corporate overhead first, and now is a third of the way into a “clean sheet” re-evaluation of the parts it buys.

The company has run its own analysis of what it costs to produce the thousands of parts in its products and is using that to guide it in negotiations with suppliers.

“It allows you to have a really honest conversation with suppliers, and not only convince them, but work with them to make sure we achieve close to those goals,” Kapoor said.

Dan Voorhis: 316-268-6577, @danvoorhis