If you bought $10,000 worth of stocks in the top five U.S. defense contractors in 2001 when the Afghanistan war started, and faithfully reinvested all dividends, your investment would now be worth $97,295 — a far greater return than was available in the overall stock market over the last two decades.
In comparison, a $10,000 investment on Sept. 18, 2001 in a Standard &Poor’s 500 index fund — a market capitalization-weighted index of the 500 largest U.S. traded companies — would now be worth $61,613.
Defense stocks outperformed the stock market overall by 58 percent during the Afghanistan war.
According to a calculation by Brown University, the U.S. spent $2.26 trillion in Afghanistan or $300 million a day over the 20-year war. Roughly $800 billion was channeled into war-fighting costs and $85 billion was used to train the Afghan army.
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The war effort in Afghanistan was in many ways privatized, with the U.S. military relying on private security contractors to power the logistics of the U.S.’s “forever war.”
The 20-year Afghanistan war was an “extraordinary success” for the top five U.S. defense contractors — Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
“We didn’t have a good sense of what it was going to cost and we didn’t have the people there who could do the negotiations or had the data, so contractors were basically able to charge whatever they wanted,” said Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the Black Hawk helicopter, was the best-performing defense contractor on the stock market during the Afghanistan war. A $10,000 investment in Lockheed in 2001 would be worth $133,559 today.
Northrop Grumman was the third-largest government contractor in the U.S. and the fifth-largest arms-producing and military services company in the world in 2017. Returns on investment for Northrop Grumman stock would make a $10,000 investment in 2001 worth $129,644.84 today.
A $10,000 investment 20 years ago in stock for Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, would be valued at $107,588.47 today. Boeing’s big-ticket defense contracts are related to the B-1 bomber, B 52s, C-17 cargo jet, V-22 Osprey vertical take-off aircraft, and F-15 and F-18 fighters.
The long Afghan war helped General Dynamics’ share price rise more than seven-fold, making a $10,000 investment potentially worth $72,515 today. General Dynamics Marine’s LAV-25 light armored vehicles were its most profitable product during the war.
For Raytheon, the third-largest defense contractor in the world, stocks during the long war returned the least among the five at 331 percent, turning its value today to $43,166.92. Most of the money earned by Raytheon was from the supply of weapons and training contracts.