Sunday, March 22, 2015

Big Bank’s Analyst Worries That Iran Deal Could Depress Weapons Sales

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Could a deal to normalize Western relations with Iran and set limits on Iran’s development of nuclear technology lead to a more peaceful and less-weaponized Middle East?

That’s what supporters of the Iran negotiations certainly hope to achieve. But the prospect of stability has at least one financial analyst concerned about its impact on one of the world’s biggest defense contractors.

The possibility of an Iran nuclear deal depressing weapons sales was raised by Myles Walton, an analyst from Germany’s Deutsche Bank, during a Lockheed earnings call this past January 27th. Walton asked Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, if an Iran agreement could “impede what you see as progress in foreign military sales.” Financial industry analysts such as Walton use earnings calls as an opportunity to ask publicly-traded corporations like Lockheed about issues that might harm profitability.

Hewson replied that “that really isn’t coming up,” but stressed that “volatility all around the region” should continue to bring in new business. According to Hewson, “A lot of volatility, a lot of instability, a lot of things that are happening” in both the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region means both are “growth areas” for Lockheed Martin.

The Deutsche Bank-Lockheed exchange “underscores a longstanding truism of the weapons trade: war — or the threat of war — is good for the arms business,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung observed that Hewson described the normalization of relations with Iran not as a positive development for the future, but as an “impediment.” “And Hewson’s response,” Hartung adds, “which in essence is ‘don’t worry, there’s plenty of instability to go around,’ shows the perverse incentive structure that is at the heart of the international arms market.”

Rising tensions in the Middle East have prompted governments to go on a shopping spree for American lobbyists and weaponsDefenseOne reportsthat over the next five years, “Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Jordan are expected to spend more $165 billion on arms.” And in the U.S., concerns over ISIS and Iran have prompted calls for an increase in the defense budget.

During the call, Hewson proudly noted that 20% of Lockheed’s sales in 2014 were “international” — meaning, to non-American customers. “So we’re pleased with that,” she said, adding that Lockheed has set a goal “to get to 25% over the next few years.”

Lockheed Martin’s trademarked slogan is “We never forget who we’re working for,” which Lockheed likes to suggest means Americans in general and military veterans in particular. The January earnings call indicates that Lockheed in fact answers to very different constituencies.

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