WASHINGTON – Overall defense revenues for the Top 100 defense companies in the world increased in 2016, ending a five-year slide and signaling that the era of defense austerity may officially be at an end.
Total 2016 defense revenues for the Top 100 companies came in at $364.8 billion, an increase of 3.6 percent over 2015 figures, according to numbers compiled by Defense News as part of the annual Top 100 Defense Companies list.
Despite the overall defense revenue increase, the list remains top-heavy. The top 25 companies accounted for 74 percent of total defense revenues in the year, and the top 10 firms accounted for 54 percent of total defense revenues in the year, identical figures to the 2015 list.
Geographically, 42 of the Top 100 firms are based in the U.S., which accounted for just under 61 percent of total defense revenue, a one percent increase from 2015 and a sign that American firms continue to reign supreme in the defense sector.
Europe has 30 companies featured, a slight increase over the 27 featured in 2015. That total increases if Russia’s six major defense companies are included. Russian Helicopter, another major player, is not included this year, because the company did respond to multiple requests for 2016 defense revenue.
The Asia-Pacific region has 15 companies, down slightly from 17 last year, while Africa, Canada and South America were represented by a single firm each. Israel is the lone country in the Middle East to appear on the list, with four companies.
This is the 17th annual Defense News Top 100 list. The paper relies on self-reporting from companies, many of whom provide estimates rather than definitive data for their defense percentages. Those numbers come with some variance.
Finally, an upturn
While the first defense revenue increase in five years will undoubtedly be welcome by industry, this year’s total is still lower than the Top 100 revenues of just two years ago ($385.6 billion in 2014) and notably less than 2012’s $401.1 billion total.
Because of how the industry reports its fiscal years, these figures represent 2016, the last year of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama. They also do not take into account the impact of the Brexit vote in the U.K., which may drive future changes in Europe.
The industry can hope that will change in the future, with U.S. President Donald Trump having pledged to “rebuild” the military. However, any impact will take several years to be felt – if they occur at all. While Trump’s public statements have been ambitious, his first defense budget showed a relatively small increase over the Obama administration’s budget figures, and it is unclear how much he can truly increase defense spending due to the continued impact of the Budget Control Act.
Steve Grundman, the Lund Fellow at the Atlantic Council, predicts Trump’s budget plans will have limited impact on the next few Top 100 lists. But that doesn’t mean Trump’s policies won’t help drive revenues.
“Where I think the impact might be more immediately noticeable is in international sales,” Grundman says, a comment that cuts both ways. After all, Trump’s brand of economic nationalism “arguably hurts U.S. exporters of defense good and services, arguably perhaps helps European or other defense companies who are competing in overseas markets.”
Roman Schweizer, an analyst with Cowen, the 2016 list shows there was a bit of a “priming of the pump” before the November election.
“It’s completely reasonable to expect growth to continue, and I think we’re at the front end of what could be a new cycle for the industry,” Schweizer said, adding that “If you can get growth in that 5 percent range, that’s going to be significant, particularly for U.S. defense.”
That 5 percent growth seems doable, said Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners, but don’t expect a major jump beyond that.
“If there’s a major war all bets are off, but for now, I think these budgets are still going to be bounded by the fiscal constraints in a number of countries,” Callan said.
Analysts contacted by Defense News agree U.S. firms, at least, should see improved numbers as a series of major programs begin to come online. The Ohio-class replacement submarine program and B-21 bomber programs are ramping up, with long-lead procurement underway. Meanwhile, contract awards to replace the Air Force’s trainer aircraft, Minuteman III ICBM, and JSTARs are all expected in the next few years.
And if the Trump administration increases its focus on missile defense, firms that deal with that business will likely be big winners in the coming years, both through domestic sales and potential international deals to countries like Poland and Romania, analysts note.
Six of the companies in the top 10 showed an increase in defense revenue over 2015, a notable shift from the previous three years, when three or fewer of the top 10 showed positive defense growth.
For the 11th straight year, Lockheed Martin came in as the top defense contractor, with $43.4 billion in defense revenue, accounting for 92 percent of its $47.2 billion total revenue for the year. That is an increase of $2.9 billion over 2015 defense revenues.
Lockheed’s growth means it opened up an almost $14 billion lead in defense revenues over Boeing, the number two defense contractor. Boeing’s defense revenues actually dropped slightly from last year, coming in at $29.5 billion. Defense made up about 31 percent of the company’s overall revenues, as Boeing continues to lean heavily on its commercial side.
Grundman notes Lockheed’s good year is “probably some combination of a bunch of things, [particularly] the net of the average on its acquisition of Sikorsky, the net of its divestiture to Leidos of its Information Systems and Global Services business., together with a ramp up in the F-35 rate.”
Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute concurred, noting that the Sikorsky and services moves were bold ones that seem to have proven themselves as a “good set of decisions” by Lockheed head Marillyn Hewson.
U.K. giant BAE came in third, repeating its 2015 and 2014 location on the list – but with a notable drop of $1.7 billion in defense revenues, the result of the pound’s fall against the dollar during 2016. Its $23.6 billion in defense revenues accounted for 91 percent of overall sales for the company. Raytheon, with $22.3 billion in defense revenues, repeated its role as the fourth largest defense firm.
Northrop Grumman jumped from 6th in 2015 to 5th on the list this year, with an increase of $2.6 billion in defense revenues to $20.2 billion total – but that number comes with a caveat. Northrop previously declined to include foreign military sales figures in its defense revenue; this year, the company added those figures into its revenue totals.
Overall, 5 companies on the list increased their defense revenues by $1 billion or more over the previous year – Lockheed (+$2.9 billion), Northrop (+$2.6 billion), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries ($1.6 billion), Hanwha (+$1.1 billion) and Leidos (+1.0 billion).
There was significant churn among the Asian companies. Japanese firm Komatsu ($885 million in defense revenues) jumped 31 spots, South Korean firm Hanwha ($4.2 billion in defense revenues) jumped 19 spots, and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries ($4 billion in defense revenues) jumped 15 places.
At the same time, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, also of Japan, had the biggest defense revenue percentage drop, going from $1.74 billion in 2015 to just $885 million in 2016. And IHI, yet another Japanese firm, had the second largest change in defense revenues by percentage, dropping from $563 billion in 2015 to $316 billion in 2016.
Leidos climbed from number 23 in 2015 to number 18 on this year’s list, as the company seems to be reaping the rewards for its decision to buy Lockheed’s Information Systems and Global Solutions arm. Leidos paid $4.6 billion to buy that business unit in 2016.
Goure thinks Leidos and CSRA, which was formed by a 2015 merger of CSC and SRA, both represent a broader shift in how the services sector operates, with further consolidation likely. CSRA increased its defense revenues by 34 percent in 2016, moving from number 46 to number 39 on the list.
“The IT business had been very good for [Lockheed] but wasn’t producing the kind of margins that they really wanted to see in some years,” Goure noted, adding that with Leidos that business “now goes to a company who specializes in that. And they are going to be, along with CSRA, two of the big, big players in this because they have real heft in IT and cyber.”
2016 saw a lull in overall M&A activity, notes Callan. One notable for the list involved the acquisition of Wyle and HTSI by KBR, which resulted in a 65 percent increase in defense revenue. Still, there was nothing as large as the Leidos or CSRA transactions – and there doesn’t appear to be anything on the horizon.
“We’re in July already and if anyone announces a major deal now, regulatory polices mean it won’t be completed before the end of year or into 2018,” Callan said. “So if you’re thinking about M&A as a driver, I think 2017 is going to be more about sales growth.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.