US aerospace giant Boeing Wednesday reported higher quarterly profits and forecast another increase in commercial plane deliveries in 2015 thanks to strong demand from airlines.
Earnings for the fourth quarter grew 18.9 percent to $1.5 billion.
The strong earnings came on the heels of a Boeing announcement in December that it delivered a record 723 jets, surpassing a previous record of 648, on rising demand from newer airlines in emerging markets and more seasoned companies replacing their fleets.
Boeing projects commercial deliveries will rise to 750-755 in 2015.
"Strong growth in the commercial airplane market continues to drive demand that supports our planned production rate increase over the remainder of the decade," said Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney, on a conference call with analysts.
Boeing has invested heavily in the 787 "Dreamliner" and other models that employ light-weight components that demand less fuel.
While the drop in oil prices may lessen some of the pressure for greater fuel economy, McNerney said airlines have not shifted their investment plans and that lower oil prices boost airline profitability.
"Overall, we see low fuel prices and positive traffic trends as beneficial to our industry and growth prospects," he said.
Boeing has raised production of the 787 to 10 per month compared with seven previously, while output of its popular 737 plane is now 42 per month, up from 38.
Still, costs for the 787 came in above analyst expectations in the fourth quarter and the company signaled costs also would continue to grow at "moderate" levels "for the next several quarters."
But analysts were reassured by the company's free cash flow in the fourth quarter, which came in about $2 billion above expectations, said a note from RBC Capital Markets.
"Free cash flow is expected to be strong again in 2015 at roughly the same level," RBC said.
"Healthy visibility and robust backlog continues to make Boeing a must in 2015 among mega large-cap industrial stocks," said a note from Sterne Agee.
Revenues for the quarter rose 28.8 percent to $24.5 billion. Operating earnings translated into $2.31 per share, better than the $2.11 projected by analysts.
Net income for all of 2014 was $5.4 billion, up 18.8 percent from last year.
Boeing said 2015 revenues would be $94.5 to $96.5 billion, more than the Wall Street estimate of $93.25 billion. Operating earnings are projected at $8.20 to $8.40 per share, under the $8.64 forecast by analysts.
Boeing shares led the Dow Jones Industrial Average, rising 6.1 percent to $140.53.