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Earnings preview: Boeing to report 3Q results

Boeing Co. reports third-quarter earnings on Wednesday, but investors probably won't be as interested in the last quarter as much as in what's happening with the aircraft maker's new 787s, and with possible defense spending cuts from the government.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Boeing is a huge company that makes commercial and military planes, as well as satellites and other defense products. So it has a lot of moving parts. But there are two areas that are creating the most suspense for investors right now: The 787 and possible defense cuts.

WHY IT MATTERS: Boeing's profits could take big swings in either direction depending on how those two issues turn out. Boeing is aiming to speed up 787 production to 10 planes per month by the end of next year. It's also aiming to deliver planes that it has already built but need reworking. Delivering planes means it gets paid, and can start booking profits from them. More delays, or a failure to make the plane as quickly as hoped, will push that revenue farther out.

Boeing and other defense contractors are also staring down the potential for severe, automatic military spending cuts in January unless Congress agrees to an alternative for cutting the deficit. But it's a good bet that those alternatives won't lead to increased military spending, either. With Europe ratcheting back spending because of the debt crisis there, the defense industry is less stable than usual.

WHAT'S EXPECTED: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.12 per share, with revenue of $20.07 billion, according to FactSet.

LAST YEAR'S QUARTER: Net income rose 31 percent to $1.1 billion, or $1.46 per share, on strength in its defense business. Revenue rose 4 percent to $17.73 billion.

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