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When a geopolitical event or threat makes headlines, some of the first mover stocks are defense contractor stocks. These stocks fluctuate on any geopolitical or national security news. Incidents don’t have to conflict with the United States but can happen anywhere. These can be lucrative investments, so it pays to know defense stocks.

But what are defense stocks, and which type of military stock should you invest in? This article will introduce you to the topic and review how to invest in the best defense stocks. 

Understanding Defense Contractor Stocks 

First, avoid confusing “defense” stocks with “defensive” ones. Defensive stocks are low-volatility, stable stocks that usually provide dividends to weather a market downturn better. 

Defense industry stocks or defense contractors stocks are companies that provide products and/or services to the U.S. military or sanctioned governments to secure, maintain and promote national security. These include weapons, aircraft, ammunition, intelligence, data analysis and logistics services. 

Defense contractors have always been involved in every U.S. conflict or war and are the weapons suppliers to the U.S. government, usually contracted through the Department of Defense. Defense companies are banned from dealing with nations deemed hostile and must be approved by the U.S. government.

Key Players in the Defense Industry

Let’s look at the top players in the defense industry, starting with the biggest name: Lockheed Martin Corp.

Lockheed Martin

The Lockheed Martin Corp. NYSE: LMT is often synonymous with the defense sector. With over 75% of its revenue coming from defense projects, Lockheed Martin is a major government supplier, and 10% of the Pentagon’s spending goes to this aerospace giant in Bethesda, Maryland.

Raytheon Technologies Inc.

A merger between United Technologies Corp and Raytheon Company created today’s Raytheon Technologies Inc. NYSE: RTX, which operates adjacent to its biggest customer in Arlington, VA. Raytheon is the largest pure aerospace and defense company by market cap and operates an intelligence services division. With over 65,000 patents, the firm is also an innovator in defense systems and military aircraft.

General Dynamics Co.

Another of the major U.S. contractors is General Dynamics Co. NYSE: G.D., which operates in four segments and supplies both public and private clients. General Dynamics builds planes for commercial and military operations, ships and submarines for the U.S. Navy, land combat systems and information technology. 

Northrop Grumman Corp.

Our last large-cap defense and aerospace company is Northrop Grumman Corp. NYSE: NOC, which has operated for nearly 85 years building tactical weapons, military craft, defense systems and related services. Northrop Grumman also manufactures manned and unmanned aircraft, and its mission systems segment offers support, intelligence, command and recon solutions for live operations.

BWX Technologies Inc.

Not every defense company has an enormous market cap. BWX Technologies Inc. NYSE: BWXT is only one-tenth the size of Lockheed Martin, but it still gets government contracts for its nuclear components and systems. BWX produces reactors, fuel and other components for U.S. nuclear submarines, plus related products and services.

Factors Affecting Defense Contractor Stocks

What influences the price of the best defense stocks? Here are a few factors to be aware of when researching your investments.

Government Policies and Defense Budgets

One of the benefits of contracting for the U.S. government is having a client who can legally print their own money. But that being said, the appetite for military spending ebbs and flows with the winds of politics and contractors aren’t always guaranteed new projects. Additionally, contractors must navigate the competitive System for Award Management (SAM) and maintain certain size and registration requirements.

Geopolitical Tensions and Conflicts

Uncertainty in the geopolitical ring can boost defense stocks, but predicting war, invasions or military operations is a tough business. While these companies employ some of the best political forecasters and strategists, tensions can unfold quickly or slowly grind on for years, often surprising even the most proficient prognosticators.

Technological Advancements and Innovation

Finally, the industry is competitive and companies that don’t innovate or cut corners quickly find themselves out of favor (Looking at you, Boeing Company). The next generation of aerospace and defense will likely involve unmanned vessels, more precise and surgical strikes and automated deterrent systems.

Ways to Invest in Defense Stocks 

Since there are no actual war stocks since the U.S. military is not publicly traded, investors have only to invest in defense contractors that are publicly listed. There are many ways to approach investing in defense company stocks. While many large defense contractors offer services throughout many segments of the defense industry, you can invest in companies specializing in various segments. Some defense contractors are so large that they have many divisions specializing in the following areas, thereby diversifying the investment in the stock.

Defense ETFs

If you want broad exposure to the defense sector, then a defense-themed ETF would be the best way to diversify investment in defense contractors. ETFs trade like stocks, so they can be conveniently bought and sold without the delay you would have in a mutual fund. ETFs are professionally managed, so you don’t have to worry about researching and staying up to date on the happenings of any individual defense contractor.  

Aerospace

You can also select a segment of specialization for defense contractors. The aerospace defense contractors focus on companies that make aircraft for military and commercial use. They may manufacture airplanes, fighter jets, air carriers, drones, satellites, and advanced combat aircraft. These stocks also tend to make aircraft for airlines for commercial use. 

Components

These companies supply military equipment components like jet engines that go into fighter jets. Component companies are often subsidiaries of defense contractors, making them vertically integrated conglomerate organizations. Often, defense contractors are formed through a merger of companies providing complementary products and services, like a company that makes components for jet fighters, with a company that constructs the actual aircraft. 

Services

This segment focuses on providing services from meal supplies to contracting special contractors for private armies and protection. It could include special contractors to provide assistance and backup for military operations involving ex-military members. Many of these contracts are classified and require high levels of clearance from the Department of Defense.  

Logistics

This segment focuses on helping to transport military equipment and personnel. These companies secure the delivery of machines and people to and from war zones or military operations worldwide. 

Information Technology 

These companies provide the hardware and software to perform intelligence operations and data analysis. This includes data storage, analysis, management and artificial intelligence (A.I.) platforms. The information is highly sensitive and classified, often associating these companies with covert operations. While these companies are publicly traded, they access highly private and sensitive data and information that can be crucial for national security. These technology companies may also specialize in other enterprise data management functions for commercial clients. 

How to Invest in Defense Stocks

Like any form of investment, there are specific steps to take to make sound investment decisions. If you decide to invest in a defense stock, it pays to research and plan to ensure a positive experience. The best defense stocks may be wrong for your investment or risk profile, so consult an investment professional if you have any questions or concerns. 

Step 1: Determine which segment to invest in.

As aforementioned in the previous section, there are many segments in the defense industry. Determine which segment or segments you want to include in your investment. You can select companies specializing in one or more interest segments ranging from aerospace and components to services, logistics and information technology. Some companies are conglomerates that include parts of all the segments. It’s best to narrow it down to the segment you understand best. 

Step 2: Select potential stocks.

You can run a scan on defense stocks through any broker platform or Google to compile a list of potential defense companies to invest in. Make sure you have a familiar group of stocks — you will need to filter them to narrow the list down to the one or few that meet your criteria. 

Step 3: Research fundamentally.

Consider reading through several annual and most recent quarterly earnings reports to gauge the company’s performance. This means knowing the top and bottom line growth rate, debt structure and recent news or material events such as large contracts. 

Be aware of what the company is known for and its operations. The fundamentals are the qualitative factors of the company and stock valuation. 

It also pays to compare various metrics with its peers and industry to determine if the valuation is low or high. Compare price-earnings, price-book, debt-equity, price-sales and year-over-year (YOY) revenue and earnings per share growth. For example, if the average price-earnings multiple is 25x and your stock is trading at 15x earnings, the stock may be undervalued and provide more upside potential. This is one way to find undervalued stocks to invest in.

Step 4: Research technically. 

Technical research involves analyzing the underlying stock price history on a chart. While you don’t have to be a chart expert, it does help to be able to identify if the current price is in an uptrend or downtrend, as well as support and resistance levels. If you plan to invest long term, you can look for weekly and monthly trends, support and resistance levels. You can use daily and hourly charts for those with shorter-term investment horizons. 

Stocks in an uptrend usually command a premium as more buyers than sellers create more robust demand over supply, which drives up the stock price. Consider an entry if the fundamentals are strong enough to justify more upside. Otherwise, it might be better to wait for a pullback. 

Downtrending stocks have more sellers than buyers, but it can be due to a bear market, not the individual company. Downtrending stocks are cheaper because you take on more risk with a falling stock price, but the rewards can be better when the trend reverses.

Step 5: Determine your entry and exit price levels.

When you can identify the trend, support and resistance on any stock, you can use them to determine your entry points. For an uptrending stock, you may buy it on a pullback to a trend support price level. You may also sell the position at a price resistance level and thereby sell into strength rather than in a panic when prices drop. For downtrending stocks, you might wait for the stock to reverse its trend before entering a position. You can also predetermine an entry based on a price support level and place a limit order in case it triggers when you aren’t watching. Either way, it pays to prepare and predetermine your investment entry and exit price.

Investment Strategies and Opportunities

If you want to add defense companies to your portfolio, you’ll need to have a strategy. Here are a few considerations for investors.

Long-term vs. Short-Term Investment Outlook

What is your timeline for investing? Contractors are often large, dividend-paying companies with less volatility than other sectors. If you’re investing for income, these companies could make sense for your portfolio, but growth seekers might prefer more volatile stocks and sectors.

Diversification Strategies in the Defense Industry

Which defense companies have the best outlook? You should never invest all your capital into just one or two stocks, but the industry isn’t as diverse as sectors like tech, finance or consumer discretionary. Investors who want to own the sector can use ETFs like the SPDR S&P Aerospace and Defense ETF NYSE: VAR, which holds 33 large-, mid- and small-cap variety stocks.

Identifying Growth Areas and Potential Market Trends

What trends and innovations are currently fueling the defense industry? Which companies best leverage A.I. and automation to streamline services or cut costs? Like any industry, predicting future trends is difficult and investors can’t expect to guess correctly on every awarded contract. Stay on top of the industry from both internal (market trends) and external (geopolitical) viewpoints to maximize your potential gains.

Will Conflict Move Defense Stocks?

Conflicts that make headlines tend to move defense company stocks depending on the specifics of the news. Wars tend to immediately bolster stocks in the defense sector in anticipation of the vast sums of money expected to be spent buying military equipment such as weapons systems, ammunition, devices and vehicles. However, don’t chase prices when these stocks shoot up rapidly. 

Remember that you are not the first to spot these stocks and professional money managers are miles ahead of you. In many cases, defense company stocks may tumble on news of war because they already ran up in anticipation of the event that a “sell the news” reaction happens. 

This is why it pays to do both fundamental and technical analysis before jumping into a defense stock. Never impulsively jump in head first with any stock, especially in the defense industry.

Future Performance of Defense Stocks

The defense industry is considered to be recession-proof. National security is a top priority for the U.S. government; when conflict arises, it spares no expense to protect the nation. The stability of the U.S. government and its spending on defense provides stability for defense stocks. 

Most defense company stocks pay a dividend and the larger defense contractors are the definition of what are blue chip stocks that have stood the test of many bear markets and economic recessions. Defense stocks can be conservative lower-risk investments compared to biotech stocks that generate income through dividends, especially during market downturns.  

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Defense companies generate most of their revenues from the U.S. government through military contracts through economic expansion and tightening cycles. Like healthcare and utility stocks, defense stocks are generally recession-proof, as defense is a national priority. 

These are consumer staples, not consumer discretionary stocks, to invest in. They aren’t nearly as volatile as the FAANG stocks. While everyone tends to focus on defense stocks when a war or global conflict breaks out, it pays to play offense during peace and low geopolitical conflicts to get positioned before things erupt. 

Defense stock prices will have spiked to premium levels once war or conflict break out. It pays to be early or wait for pullbacks to enter defense stocks. 

FAQs

Here are a few commonly asked questions about the best defense stocks to buy:

Are defense stocks a good buy?

Defense companies are some of the largest and most profitable companies on U.S. stock exchanges. These firms are often good investments because government contracts are lengthy and have predictable terms. Additionally, geopolitical tensions have been rising since 2022, which could continue to boost companies that manufacture defense systems.

What is the largest defense stock?

Boeing is the largest company by market cap, although it isn’t a pure defense company and has major clients all over the globe. Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin are the next biggest defense companies, each with a market cap north of $100 billion.

Do defense stocks pay dividends?

Yes, defense companies frequently return profits to shareholders through dividends. Major contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics all have a dividend yield of at least 1.9%, and even smaller specialized firms like Huntington Ingalls Industries NYSE: HII have strong dividends.

Before you consider BWX Technologies, you’ll want to hear this.

MarketBeat keeps track of Wall Street’s top-rated and best performing research analysts and the stocks they recommend to their clients on a daily basis. MarketBeat has identified the five stocks that top analysts are quietly whispering to their clients to buy now before the broader market catches on… and BWX Technologies wasn’t on the list.

While BWX Technologies currently has a “Moderate Buy” rating among analysts, top-rated analysts believe these five stocks are better buys.

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