Boeing China Order Hawked by Trump Is Said to Be Mostly Old News

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  • Deal is signed in Beijing for 260 narrow-bodies and 40 wide
  • Chinese airlines expand their fleets as air travel surges
President Xi Jinping speaks at the U.S.-China Business Exchange in Beijing.

Eager to show he can narrow the trade gap with China and create jobs at home, U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday touted an order for 300 Boeing Co. planes. Yet the bulk of the deal announced in Beijing was old news.

The order, with a list value of $37 billion before customary discounts, consists mostly of previous agreements, officials with knowledge of the matter said. The pact is largely for jets that have been parts of deals since 2013, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

It “would have been surprising if something was not announced,” said Will Horton, a Hong Kong-based analyst at CAPA Centre for Aviation. “Three hundred aircraft for China is supermarket shopping, not Costco stockpiling. There will need to be more orders soon.”

Trump’s signing ceremony with Chinese President Xi Jinping underscores the political stakes as the U.S. president seeks to demonstrate his ability to win large contracts for the country’s biggest manufacturers. Most of the roughly 15 agreements in various industries unveiled Thursday are nonbinding deals that could take years to materialize, if they do at all. Last month, Singapore Airlines Ltd. signed a $13.8 billion Boeing order at a presentation witnessed by Trump and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

State-owned China Aviation Supplies Holding Co. on Thursday announced its order for 260 narrow-body Boeing jets and 40 wide-bodies. Chicago-based Boeing declined to say whether the contracts were new. Its website lists more than 1,000 orders from undisclosed clients. China Aviation Supplies didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Read more: China haul has little of substance

Separately, General Electric Co. signed three deals valued at $3.5 billion as part of Trump’s visit, including engine supplies to Juneyao Airlines Co. and ICBC Financial Leasing Co.

Chinese airlines have been on a plane-buying spree from Boeing and Airbus SE amid expectations that the country will overtake the U.S. as the largest air-travel market in five years. Boeing in September raised its 20-year forecast for aircraft demand in China as the nation’s growth and an expanding middle class boost air travel. The planemaker expects that China needs 7,240 new planes valued at almost $1.1 trillion in the two decades through 2036.

China previously has placed large orders through a centralized buyer before dividing them up among airlines and leasing companies, including a $22 billion deal China Aviation Supplies announced in July. During a visit by Xi to Berlin in July, Airbus said it won a $22 billion order to supply 140 planes to China, including 40 wide-body A350s and 100 of its narrow-body A320-series jets.

Read more: Dissecting the China deals

In September 2015 Boeing landed $38 billion in plane orders and commitments from Chinese carriers and lessors when Xi made his first state visit to the U.S. That agreement included orders and commitments for 190 single-aisle 737s and 50 wide-body jetliners, without identifying customers. Lessors ICBC Financial Leasing Co. and CDB Leasing Co. took another 60 737s.

Air China Ltd.China Eastern Airlines Corp., China Southern Airlines Co. -- the three biggest state carriers -- together plan to add more than 600 aircraft through 2020. Air China and China Eastern intend to introduce 167 and 191 aircraft respectively through 2019, while China Southern has plans for almost 300 more planes by 2020, according to the companies’ financial statements.

China Southern said last month it signed a contract to buy 38 Boeing planes -- eight 777s and 30 737s -- at a list price of $5.65 billion. That followed a $6 billion order for 20 Airbus A350 planes that the Guangzhou-based carrier announced six months earlier. China Southern will take delivery of the A350-900s starting 2019, with all of the planes to be handed over by the end of 2022, it said in April.

— With assistance by Haze Fan, Dong Lyu, Kyunghee Park, Benjamin D Katz, and Julie Johnsson

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