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EARNINGS PREVIEW: U.S. Defense Companies Still Clouded By Uncertainty

By Tess Stynes TAKING THE PULSE: The outlook for U.S. defense contractors in the second quarter remained clouded by uncertainty about future Pentagon budget cuts. Some companies have begun to speak openly about how they may have to close plants and lay off employees if lawmakers can't reach a budget deal to prevent steep across-the-board cuts set for next year. Investors are looking for incremental updates on new programs and continuing shifts in spending as well as how firms are faring in boosting international sales. U.S. contractors likely will see increasing competition on that front as major European defense firms also have vowed to step up efforts to reduce their dependence on their home turf. COMPANIES TO WATCH: Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) - reports July 24 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.91 share on $11.29 billion in revenue, compared with earnings of $2.14 a share, including net charges of 33 cents, and revenue of $11.55 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: Lockheed Martin is viewed in the sector as one of the most vulnerable to U.S. defense-spending cuts because of its role in large projects, such as the Joint Strike Fighter. Lockheed recently said it would cut 740 positions in its mission systems and sensors unit. The company's backlogs, which pulled back in the first quarter after a big quarter at the end of last year, may be a focus, particularly in its information-systems and global solutions segment as well as its electronics-systems business, which have shorter business cycles than its aeronautics and space-systems divisions. General Dynamics Corp. (GD) - reports July 25 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.74 a share on $7.94 billion in revenue, compared with earnings from continuing operations of $1.79 a share and revenue of $7.88 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: General Dynamics is most exposed of the big contractors to U.S. pullbacks from Iraq and Afghanistan, countered in part by the positive outlook for the Navy in the latest Pentagon strategic review. Like many defense companies, General Dynamics has been diversifying its businesses to help cope with weak domestic defense spending. The market likely will be looking to learn more about bookings for the company's Gulfstream jets and how anticipated declines in Army budgets and more competition in services will affect its combat-systems segment and its information systems and technology unit. Boeing Co. (BA) - reports July 25 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.10 a share on $19.36 billion in revenue, compared with earnings of $1.25 a share and revenue of $16.54 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: Boeing's ability to execute on its bulging commercial aircraft order book has been the primary concern among investors, and the company still has significant milestones to meet in boosting 787 output and launching its new 737 Max. The defense unit has expanded international sales, though investors likely will be watching for any word of further cost cuts in Boeing's defense arm as the industry deals with weak U.S. budgets. Early this year, Boeing said it planned to close its Wichita, Kan., defense plant, where the company upgrades military jets and maintains Air Force One. Investors also will look for progress in developing the new aerial-tanker contract for the U.S. Air Force after Boeing won a fierce contest for a contract that has left some wondering about its long-term profitability. The fate of its C-17 military cargo plane also may be decided this year and depends on Boeing's ability to win emerging-market orders for the aircraft. The company's commercial segment has been in the spotlight lately amid strong jet orders and a shift in leadership. Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) - reports July 25 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.60 a share on $6.19 billion in revenue, compared with earnings of $1.81 a share and revenue of $6.56 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: The defense contractor, which builds pilotless aircraft such as the Global Hawk and is a provider of cybersecurity and logistics services, has been streamlining operations for the past several years to cope with anticipated changes in the industry landscape, such as the spinoff of its naval shipbuilding business in March 2011 and a number of bolt-on acquisitions. Investors likely will be watching for any details about plans for its Global Hawk platforms and other unmanned programs as well as the impact on revenue as some current wars slow down. Margins may be in focus again, especially in the electronics-systems segment--where they were unusually high in the first quarter. Raytheon Co. (RTN) - reports July 26 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.22 a share on $6.04 billion in revenue, compared with earnings of $1.23 a share, or $1.39 excluding unfavorable pension-related adjustments, on revenue of $6.22 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: The company, known as the maker of Patriot missiles, is also considered among the most resilient to Pentagon budget cuts thanks to a diversified business base and limited reliance on big-ticket projects. During the first quarter, Raytheon booked $5.2 billion in orders, little changed from a year earlier, though its backlog slipped to $34.3 billion, down $1 billion from the end of last year. The company is waiting to see how it fares in the missile-defense competition in Turkey against proposals from Russia, Europe and China. Other key prospects include potential Patriot orders for Kuwait and ground-based air-defense systems for Oman. (The Thomson Reuters financial estimates and year-earlier figures may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.) Write to Tess Stynes at tess.stynes@dowjones.com

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