Osama bin Laden Is Dead

Osama bin Laden is dead. On Sunday, May 1, President Obama announced that U.S. forces operating in Pakistan had killed the head of al-Qaida, and a new chapter in world history began.

For nearly 10 years -- ever since Sept. 11, 2001 -- al-Qaida's leader has loomed like a specter over our lives. He's been the "black swan" circling the rooftop. The bogeyman in the closet. A 6'5" unknown, frightening a market that famously abhors uncertainty.

And now he's gone.

The bin Laden effect
It's hard to overestimate bin Laden's effect on our world. This being the Fool, I'm going to leave the discussion of political, security, and diplomatic implications to the journalists at CNN, et al. Today, I'll just sketch out a few potential changes for U.S. investors.

You can draw a pretty direct line of correlation from bin Laden's 9/11 attack to the implosion of the American airline industry, and the disappearance of Northwest Airlines and Continental as independent entities, transformed and merged into Delta and United Continental. His influence continues today, in the form of long lines of unhappy travelers milling about U.S. airports -- shoeless, water-bottleless, and irradiated. While not solely responsible for the airlines' periodically reporting $1 billion-losing quarters, he's not exactly blameless.

On the other hand, bin Laden also arguably helped create industries. Airport security, for example. Would X-ray scanner American Science & Engineering (Nasdaq: ASEI  ) have any name recognition without bin Laden? I doubt it. Would General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) have bothered to buy bomb-screener InVision, but for the security threats revealed by 9/11? Hard to be sure, but probably not -- it later sold the division, even with bin Laden still on the loose.

But now he's gone. So now what?

Investing post-bin Laden
I'm typing this column before market-open on Monday, but I'll take a wild guess that when trading begins we'll see some market euphoria over the removal of at least one "unknown" from Mr. Market's bogeyman closet. Don't take it as signaling some immediate big trend, however.

As the president counseled last night, America must remain vigilant against revenge attacks by bin Laden backers seeking to avenge their leader's fall. The 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 is just around the corner, and I expect nerves will remain jangled for the next several months at least.

Don't expect to see X-ray security machines disassembled and packed into shipping boxes at JFK and LAX right away, for instance. Nor is now the time to short defense contractors. After all, Lockheed Martin's (NYSE: LMT  ) F-35 fighter jet and General Dynamics' (NYSE: GD  ) LCS warship were never much use in spelunking for al-Qaida in the caves of Waziristan before. They'll be no less useful now that bin Laden is dead. If you watched the president's speech, you no doubt noted the absence of any "Mission Accomplished" banner, or declarations that U.S. troops will be coming home for Christmas.

To the contrary, with the Arab spring in full swing, Libya heating up, and al-Qaida crippled, it's entirely possible that we'll see more U.S. military activity in the Middle East, rather than less. For years, Predator drones, Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) ScanEagles, Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) Global Hawks, and Textron (NYSE: TXT  ) Shadows flew over the Middle East and monitored movements on the ground, trying to find the answer to "Where in the world is Osama bin Laden?" These same aircraft could very well be retasked to harrying al-Qaida now that it's on the ropes. Far from demanding a "peace dividend" from the military-industrial complex, now that Public Enemy No. 1 is eliminated, we could find Washington rewarding its success.

Foolish final thought
These, as I say, are the immediate implications of bin Laden's demise. But here at the Fool, we're all about long-term investing, and long-term thinking. On that score, I wax optimistic.

Sunday saw the removal of one small but significant impediment to market confidence. It removed a reason for oil prices to be quite so high as they are. It diminished the risk to air travel and airline stocks. For defense investors, it sounded the opening note in a debate over "Why are we still in Afghanistan … now that Osama bin Laden is dead?" And I believe it advanced the date of our withdrawal by several months, if not years.

Because on Sunday, the world just got a little bit safer, for investors and … for everyone, really. For this we can all be thankful.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. American Science & Engineering is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. The Fool owns shares of General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Textron. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.


Read/Post Comments (16) | Recommend This Article (26)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 11:19 AM, bottomfisherman wrote:

    Sleeping with the fishes.

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 11:34 AM, djemonk wrote:

    Prolly the only reason he got caught was 'cause he used his real address on Play Station Network

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 11:37 AM, dunkmaster wrote:

    we are only one (and a hand full more) dead terrorist closer to being safe...any claim to the contrary is a joke.

    The genie is out of the bottle...

    Until every "stone age" thinker in the Jihad world is dead or distracted by something else this is just the begining of a long and ugly saga that will drag on for another generation (or gererations).

    When they write the history of the "war on terror"...this will be a footnote like John Browns Death was to the civil war...I just hope the victor is our cause not BinL's

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 11:48 AM, wantingtoretire wrote:

    I am at a loss as to why America just assassinated OBL. As to the comments "Because on Sunday, the world just got a little bit safer, for investors and … for everyone, really....It diminished the risk to air travel and airline stocks." Are you nuts.

    You can the rest of the world just sighing...."What on earth is America doing now....they are just like a little kid running around a china store without parents..."

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 12:08 PM, djemonk wrote:

    > I am at a loss as to why America just assassinated OBL

    Really? Because the explanation is pretty simple.

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 12:08 PM, MaxTheTerrible wrote:

    I don't think it is necessarily "the removal of at least one "unknown" from Mr. Market's bogeyman closet". If anything, it's introduction of multiple other "unknowns". Revenge attacks being one (as you correctly pointed out). Competition for the "terrorist #1" spot among the remaining nut-jobs being another. The list can go on and on...

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 3:39 PM, cattywampus wrote:

    Hopefully, he is really in some equally elaborate high security facility as his 1m$+ compound being questioned right now. Will we ever know for sure? The conspiracy theories will come pouring out. More valuable dead or alive? More dangerous dead or alive?

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 6:10 PM, JeanDavid wrote:

    Do not worry. The so-called defense industry can always find another terrorist. Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union did not reduce our military adventures, so the death of OBL will not change anything either. In that sense, he died in vain. If they even got the right man. Since he was tossed into the ocean, no one will ever know.

    If they were serious, why did they not zip him off to Guantanamo and interrogate him to find out how he got away with whatever he did?

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 6:23 PM, Turfscape wrote:

    JeanDavid wrote:"If they were serious, why did they not zip him off to Guantanamo and interrogate him to find out how he got away with whatever he did?"

    Um, because dead men tend to make for really boring interrogations. Totally one-sided.

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 8:41 PM, fightingfinn wrote:

    JeanDavid,

    Normally I keep this about investing, but you are an offensive jerk-off and have managed to pull me down to your level. I will break down you entire offensive post line by line so as not to miss any single point of your confounding jackassery.

    "The so-called defense industry can always find another terrorist. Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union did not reduce our military adventures, so the death of OBL will not change anything either."

    Valid points if you are some nut job that believes the new world order, skull and cross bones, illuminati, masonic order, catholic church etc., etc., etc., is controlling the true path of the universe. The rest of the planet realizes that Bin Ladin wasn't "discovered" by the so-called defense industry, the @sshole killed over 3000 Americans. That's not imaginary, or the military industrial complex, that is what happened on 09/11/01.

    "In that sense, he died in vain. If they even got the right man. Since he was tossed into the ocean, no one will ever know."

    9/11 conspiracy theory jackass! He died in vein? What sort of noble cause did you have the great Osama dying for? Srew that murdering bastard, if he died to make one 9/11 widow feel better for just 5 seconds, that is a good enough reason for me and every other red blooded American. As for the questions about his identity and the implication of a cover up, I refer to my original statement, You are a horses @ss.

    "If they were serious, why did they not zip him off to Guantanamo and interrogate him to find out how he got away with whatever he did?"

    Spoken like a true coward who loves to talk of freedom but has never picked up a rifle and stepped forward to be counted amoungst her defenders. Piss on you Sir! Do not question the intentions and motivations of our brave servicemen who answered the call and made a decision in a spit second. EVERYONE would love to have seen Bin Ladin interogated and have found out what he knows. But in the end, Osama make his own choice by resisting the SEALs. All of the information in his brain is not worth one more drop of the blood of America's finest.

    In conclusion, I sincerly hope the Fool does not block my comment due to it's vulgar nature. My singular goal is to help you realize what an ass you are for questioning our brave boys in such a manner that you feel appropriate shame and never again post such inflamatory leftist bull$hit on an investing website again.

    I apologize in advance for the rant. I simply can't stand to see the Fool corupted by this poison. This is a place for profits, not politics.

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 11:06 PM, PeakOilBill wrote:

    There has always been, and always will be, terrorists. But Bin Laden was the charismatic leader, and founder, of the only organized, well funded, global terrorist organization. Killing him, especially with a manned effort, deep inside unfriendly territory, was a VERY big deal. Ask yourself how many other countries could pull off such a mission without losing a single man! Not many.THAT took guts. GO NAVY !

  • Report this Comment On May 03, 2011, at 2:07 AM, dgmennie wrote:

    FROM MY EMAIL ON THE MORNING OF 9/11/01:

    Well, I was in the World Trade Center about a half hour before the planes hit

    yesterday. I got to my office and did not know anything was wrong until someone

    started playing a radio after 9 a.m. We looked out the window and saw smoke.

    (You cannot see the WTC itself from our windows.) Nobody knew what was going on.

    But by the time they decided to empty the building, there was so much dust and

    smoke you could not breathe outside. Almost like a big thunderstorm was passing

    through, but raining dust, paper, and debris. We ended up staying inside.

    Fortunately the power remained on and I got to the phones and the e-mail in time

    to tell my family I was OK.

    The trip home was another adventure. The smoke from the WTC collapse eased up

    around noon, and I could see ferry boats in the East River picking hundreds of

    people who were walking from all over downtown. The word was that some ferries

    were headed to NJ. I went outside, and after waiting around, I found out that a

    boat was soon to leave for Hoboken and I got on. When we rode around the end of

    Manhattan, you could see nothing but smoke where the WTC use to be. (At the time

    I did not realize that both towers had imploded.) I was expecting to see big

    buildings with bad damage -- but there was NOTHING!

    After arriving in Hoboken they made everyone from the ferry go through fire

    hoses (clothes and all) to shower off the dust. I eventually got a NJ Transit

    train, rode it to Newark, and got to my car by around 3 p.m. (PATH was not

    working).

    I tried several routes out of Newark that were jammed before I got over to

    Harrison where I picked up 280 west. I got home OK, but really shaken

    emotionally. People's personal stuff was scattered all over the streets in NYC

    from the offices that were destroyed when the WTC collapsed.

    While our building was not damaged, so much of downtown NYC is wreckage I have

    no idea when we will go back to work again.

    Like it or not, our country is at war.

  • Report this Comment On May 03, 2011, at 4:30 AM, Pancho1610 wrote:

    Four years ago, after more than a decade of research into crime including terrorism, torture, etc.,I concluded that America had already handed victory to the perpetrators of 9/11. Dead though he may now be, bin Laden long ago achieved his aim and no amount of gloating can alter the fact that he succeeded in bankrupting the USofA. In Quicksands of Crime, I showed in 2007 that Bush.Blair et al had fallen into the terrorists' trap and turned a once fiscally successful and relatively free nation into a financial basket case. Regrettably Barrack Obama continued in the same gung ho mindset and has continued to throw obscene amounts of money stomping around the globe promoting so called democracy. Money which Americe does not have of course. - it is all borrowed or stolen via quantitive easing. As for democracy-it too is long gone, along with freedom

    It is depressing that the likes of fightingfinn have learned nothing about the causes of terrorism or the American Constitution. Preferring to have had bin Laden taken to The shameful Guantanamo Bay for interrogation can only mean that fightingfinn wanted him tortured. When will they ever learn? Oh when will they ever learn?

  • Report this Comment On May 03, 2011, at 6:22 AM, nivekluap wrote:

    "Ding dong, the Wicked Witch is DEAD!"

    God Bless America!

    KD

  • Report this Comment On May 03, 2011, at 1:27 PM, OOHWAH wrote:

    HE DESERVED TO DIE

  • Report this Comment On May 03, 2011, at 1:44 PM, TheDumbMoney wrote:

    My favorite comment on this whole thing, overheard:

    "Talk Abbottabad place to hide! No WONDER we caught him!"

    Baddabing! Baddaboom!

    Thank you, thank you. Yeah, I'm here all week.

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