Defense stocks have become collateral damage in the battle raging in Congress over how to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next decade.
Any mix of cuts and tax increases will certainly include significant reductions in defense spending. And if the Congressional "super committee" fails to come up with a plan, an automatic "sequestration" will kick in, which calls for half of the money -- $600 billion - to come out of defense.
That will come on top of $350 billion in defense spending cuts (also stretched out over the next decade) that were part of this past summer's agreement to raise the debt ceiling.
No wonder the major defense contractors are concerned.
"The defense market is shrouded by the uncertainty," Jay Johnson, Chairman and CEO of General Dynamics Corporation (NYSE: GD
) told Politico
. "We continue to have no special insight as [to] what the super committee will determine ... or what will happen to defense budgets beyond 2012."
While the deadline for the 12-member bipartisan super committee to vote on a plan is Wednesday, it must submit that plan to the Congressional Budget Office today (Monday).
Talk on Capitol Hill last week was anything but optimistic.
Super committee member Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT, was among those expressing dismay at the lack of progress.
"We're at a time in American history where everybody's afraid - afraid of losing their job - to move toward the center. A deadline is insufficient," Baucus told The Washington Post
. "You've got to have people who are willing to move."
The urgency of doing something about the federal deficit was underscored last week when it officially passed the $15 trillion mark.
With defense spending already on the decline as a result of the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq by year's end and the continuing drawdown of forces from Afghanistan, the defense industry has already started to feel the pain.
Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT
) laid off 6,500 workers over the summer
; its stock is down more than 5% in the last six months. Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC
) let 800 people go just last month, and its stock has fallen nearly 12% in the past six months.
Profits at Risk
An adjustment was coming even without a debt problem. While the United States was embroiled in two major overseas conflicts, the defense industry got fat - profits grew from $6.7 billion in 2001 to $24.8 billion in 2010.
Government spending on defense has nowhere to go but down -- the only question is by how much.
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