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War, what is it good for? Bank investments

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Some of Australia’s biggest financial institutions stand to make a killing from the return to Iraq.

While they may be opposed to intervention in Iraq and concerned about repeating the errors of the last Iraq War (or, perhaps more correctly, the earlier stage of the ongoing Iraq War), Australians can at least benefit from the conflict another way: through their investments and superannuation. Several of Australia’s biggest financial institutions have substantial investments in the United States war machine and are looking at big rises in the value of their investments since the US began airstrikes against Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) in August.

The biggest members of the US military industrial complex have all enjoyed surges in their share prices since the US air campaign was announced, and last week all touched historic highs ahead of President Barack Obama’s speech announcing an expansion of the campaign. Currently the stand-out is Raytheon, whose share price has put on nearly 13% since Obama announced airstrikes in August, handily outperforming both the Nasdaq and the Dow.

That’s great news for investors: AMP had US$30 million invested in Raytheon at June 30, meaning investors have enjoyed a nearly US$4 million return in just over a month. It’s also great news for Westpac?—?it had over US$23 million invested in Raytheon at June 30. The Commonwealth Bank had just under US$15 million.

Another top performer is General Dynamics, which has put on over 10% since airstrikes were announced.  AMP had over $15 million invested in General Dynamics at June 30, meaning it has picked up a handy US$1.5 million in a month. The Commonwealth Bank, though, only has around $6 million in GD; Westpac just $2.5 million. AMP is also an investor in Lockheed Martin, which has put on 7% since August 7, meaning a cool US$2.5 million on AMP’s US$33.5 million shareholding. The CBA only has US$9 million in Lockheed, but Westpac has nearly US$20 million. Northrop Grumman?—?up 8% since 7 August?—?also has AMP (US$27 million), CBA (US$31 million) and Westpac (US$35 million) on its share register.

The couple of hundred million AMP, the Commonwealth and Westpac have in defence companies of course pales into insignificance compared to the often multibillion-dollar holdings major US institutions have in these companies, including those of big public sector retirement funds. For example, among the biggest winners from the rise in defence contractor share prices will be American teachers. The New York state teachers’ super fund, for instance, has nearly $94 million just in Lockheed; the Texas teachers’ super fund has over $112 million in General Dynamics.

But it also pales into insignificance compared to Australia’s stand-out investor in the military-industrial complex, Macquarie Bank. At June 30, MacBank had US$465 million in Northrop Grumman, US$456 million in Raytheon and US$51 million in Lockheed. The new intervention in Iraq has so far given MacBank a handy US$100 million boost in little more than a month. Well done all.

Bernard Keane is politics editor for Crikey.

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