Nov 18, 2020 - Economy & Business

The defense industry worries about Biden

Data: FactSet; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios
Data: FactSet; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

America's defense contractors aren't celebrating Joe Biden's victory. They haven't accepted defeat yet, but they are digging in for budgetary battles.

Why it matters: The biggest companies in the military-industrial complex tend to see increasing revenues only under Republican presidents.

By the numbers: Axios looked at the total revenues for Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics — the heart of America's defense industry. (We didn't include Boeing because so much of its business is civilian aircraft.)

  • At the end of the Clinton administration, the four companies collectively generated just under $70 billion over the previous 12 months.
  • George W Bush then launched two costly wars in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. By the end of his term, those four companies' revenue had risen 136% to $165 billion.
  • The Obama years saw effectively no change, with total 12-month revenues dipping slightly to $163 billion after eight years.
  • Then Trump arrived. For all his determination to pull American troops out of foreign conflicts, he also promised to replenish stockpiles that were depleted by the Budget Control Act. Annual revenues of the four defense contractors rose 30% in his first three years in office, hitting a peak of $211 billion.

Between the lines: Biden has indicated that he doesn't plan drastic cuts to the Pentagon's $705 billion budget. “I don’t think [budget cuts] are inevitable, but we need priorities,” Biden told Stars and Stripes in September.

  • The priorities include some $3 trillion in non-defense spending, which puts pressure on him to shrink the Pentagon's budget.
  • The defense industry is banking on congressional Republicans. "We are more interested in who controls the Senate than the White House," an industry source told Axios.

The bottom line: The four defense contractors are now collectively worth $304 billion. That's down $70 billion, or 19%, from the February high. The market clearly does not believe that Biden will be as generous to arms dealers as Trump was.

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