Update: Lockheed expects to sell more F-35s as prices fall; Sikorsky audit unclear

Donald Trump's Dec. 22 tweet was critical of Lockheed Martin and the cost of the company's F-35.

Update 1/25:  Despite all the "F-35 drama" over President Trump complaining Lockheed's jet fighter is too expensive, CEO Marrilyn Hewson "was able to successfully assuage concerns yesterday" and assure investors that F-35 profits to the company will keep rising even as the price goes down -- from above $100 million/plane to $85 million by 2019 -- due to higher production volumes and cost-cutting, writes analyst Pete Skibitski, in a report to clients of Philadelphia-based Drexel Hamilton & Co.

Skibitski is recommending the stock, which he says is likely to return 20% in 2017, up from 12-15% in each of the past two years, on higher foreign sales.  He noted Lockheed is currently working through $96 billion in back orders and can look forward to "a rising U.S. defense budget."  

TUESDAY 1/24: Shares of Lockheed Martin Corp., whose missile, space and Sikorsky helicopter programs employ thousands in the Philadelphia suburbs, fell more than $5, to around $252, in trading today after the military contractor released earnings and admitted uncertainties in some key businesses. Earnings statement here.

Lockheed traded in the mid-$260s during the month after Republican Donald Trump's election as president, but shares dropped when he questioned the $100 million-plus cost of the company's F-35 fighter jet.

Spending limits in place as Congress works out the U.S. budget for the next two years won't block key projects like the BlackRock helicopter or the Orion spacecraft, chief executive Marillyn Hewson told investors in a conference call.

Asked about price cuts for the F-35, which Lockheed also sells to U.S. allies including Israel and Japan, Hewston said he met twice with Trump before the president's inauguration last week and said the company "is on the path" to "affordable prices for our war fighters and our taxpayers."

Hewson said the price of the plane, which he called a "game-changer," has already fallen as Lockheed makes more of them. He said his company is "very close to a deal" to sell more. Trump "wants to make sure the American taxpayer is getting the lowest possible cost on the program." He added that Trump "asked excellent questions," and agreed Lockheed will be able to keep its profit margins up as it reduces manufacturing costs.

"It's not about slashing our profit," but about squeezing suppliers, Hewson added. "We can continue to take cost out of the supply chain, to take cost out of our manfuacturing and materials."

Lockheed officials also warned they have found "material weakness" in accounting in the company's newly-acquired Sikorsky division, and that the company can't yet estimate the financial damage this will cause.

Sikorsky laid off hundreds of workers at its Coatesville, Chester County plant last year after receiving a state committment of tax dollars to help build a road underpass and also improvements. Lockheed makes the Blackhawk and other war helicopters.