Don't say you were not warned. For well over a year now, the U.S. and its allies have been embarked on a madcap (non-) spending spree in the defense sphere. Defense budgets are falling right and left, East (of the Atlantic) and West. The end result of which, as I've argued, will be to reinstate the multi-polar world that existed pre-Cold War.
As India reminded us this morning, announcing the arrival of its new Tejas fighter jet. You see, when defense investors think of India, they've been trained to think of the country as an "opportunity" -- a new market, formerly dominated by Russia, but one:
- in which companies like Honeywell
(NYSE: HONC)and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT)have just begun to crack (through sales of the C130-J transport) ...
- where Northrop Grumman
(NYSE: NOC)and Raytheon (NYSE: RTN)are hot on their six (flying shotgun on a P-8A Poseidon subhunter) ...
- and one where Boeing
(NYSE: BA), Lockheed, and United Technologies (NYSE: UTX)all hope to win further multi-billion-dollar arms deals (for fighter jets and Black Hawk helicopters).
But while these opportunities make India look like a Texas-sized profits bonanza, there's a risk here as well -- and it's an actual Tejas. You see, at the same time as India is angling to buy dozens of advanced fighter jets to overhaul its crusty, MiG-era Air Force, it's also hard at work building an indigenous defense industry. Tejas, aka Hindustan Aeronautics' "Light Combat Aircraft," is a major step in that direction.
India cleared production of an initial squadron of 20 fighters this week and expects to have the planes flying CAP sometime early next year -- the vanguard of an indigenous air force expected to swell to 200 planes in size. So while it's true India is still a major market for foreign defense contractors, the writing's already on the wall: It won't remain so forever.
Don't mess with Tejas
It's also not alone. As I've argued in recent months, there's a broad "stand-down" under way in defense spending by Western nations that have heretofor maintained the peace and the security of sea-lanes around the globe. But these tasks still need doing, and someone else is going to do them if we won't.
China's new stealth fighter, which dominated headlines last week, is just one manifestation of the new trend. India's Tejas is another. Our task as investors, I'd argue, is to figure out how best to invest in the trend of a global foreign defense buildup. My first suggestion: Consider buying shares of General Electric
As for the next suggestion: I'll open the floor for debate. What's your favorite foreign defense play? Tell us about it in the comments box below.
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