Belated Artillery For Ukraine: How Can Investors Think About This Terrible Theme?

When it comes to remaining constructive and optimistic, we have other ideas as well.

In the paragraphs below, we continue our series on assets to potentially own in this (very difficult) environment.

It is undeniable that, in an inflationary bear market that could be easily flirting with stagflation over the short-to-medium term, it can be very difficult to find assets or corners of the market to wait out the storm.

The options can often seem like a) cash that sees its power eroded or b) hold on and watch your wealth get obliterated in the markets c) sell and try and rotate into something that will protect your finances.

As we detail below, it is difficult but not impossible. Relying on greater military spending might be one theme to keep in mind.


The White House heralded another $700 million in weapons for Ukraine last week.

The big news was in the details of the weapons themselves rather than the size of the package or the fact that it involves weapons rather than humanitarian aid.

Namely, for the first time, the US are sending something called "High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems" or "HIMARS" in the inevitable military acronym.

Without getting into excruciating detail here, these systems are modern artillery weapons that combine precision with power and mobility. Unsurprisingly, these weapons have been heavily coveted by the Ukrainians since the outbreak of the conflict and actual experts suggest they could prove game changers on the battlefield.

In layman's terms, the HIMARS system can rain death down with pin point accuracy from as far away as 40 miles.

Nothing quite underlines the transformation in what "artillery" means more than watching this frankly terrifying video of one HIMARS unit in action.

Mobile, maneuverable and easy-to-use this system is very far removed from the static and cumbersome artillery of old.

So far, so clear. We pity the Russian soldiers and are thankful that the significant Russian artillery advantage will be meaningfully addressed.

Why are we bringing this to your attention?

Two big points, both heavily interlinked:

  1. The first is that the current administration constantly rubbishes the suggestion of experts or the requests of the Ukrainians only to gradually (or sometimes rapidly) reverse course a short time period later.

  2. The second is what it says about the direction of the conflict and, more broadly, the direction of government budgets and military spending.

On the first point, besides the fact that our stop-and-start approach is pretty puzzling, there is also the fact that we are giving the unhelpful impression of being constantly pressured into the latest move.

  • This doesn't make us look careful. It makes us look reluctant.

Why continually resist taking a step you will take anyway? Or, if you are going to hold off, have the courage of your convictions! Similarly, if you are going to proceed, does waiting a few weeks or a matter of days really matter?

  • Strategic ambiguity is one thing but strategic ambivalence isn't the same and nor is it particularly valuable.

Vladimir Putin won't be impressed by the fact that we might be reluctant to help the Ukrainians. It will only confirm his low opinion of our conviction level and encourage his belief that - if he could only achieve it - the fait accompli of a Russian takeover of Ukraine would be perfectly possible.

The West has done pretty well on Ukraine though our campaign is not without real question marks (see next topic). But, in particular, the US has been committed, disciplined and serious but all of this is undermined by constantly agonizing about some imaginable line is directly counterproductive to our stated aims.

This leadership is critical because, slowly but surely, the public is caring less and less about the war. Very quickly this will bleed into the coverage itself and beyond.

See here:

If there is a point where the Russians will enter into war with NATO itself then let us be clear what that is and why. Resisting Putin's aggression but doing it reluctantly fools no one. Let's avoid it.

  • On the second point, the arrival of the HIMARS systems allows us to reiterate the obvious point that the war in Ukraine continues.

The conflict is also gaining, not declining in intensity and may be moving to the back pages of the newspaper but by no means is the war moving to the back burner.

Aside from the terribleness of this situation and the culpability of the Russians, why bring this to your attention?

  • Well, because it is leading to an incredible arms race. And that arms race is causing military spending to sky rocket.

  • Military spending equals higher profits for the military-industrial company.

Every day in Ukraine weapons are fired. Weapon systems are damaged or destroyed. Ammunition is consumed. Alongside the terrible human suffering and immense cost to Ukraine and its people there is a huge consumption of military material.

In purely economic terms, there is almost nothing worse than building and using weapons of war. In a perfect economic system there is almost nothing as unproductive than building and firing artillery systems into "empty" land. You are spending capital, human ingenuity and expertise in building something with almost no productive use.

A HIMARS system is a far more evolved and modern version of this experiment. In a narrow sense, there is zero productive economic utility in a HIMARS system.

  • There is utility in deterring or even defeating Vladimir Putin, however. That is why the HIMARS can and needs to exist, because not everyone is kind or rational or well-meaning.

You don't need to point this out to the Ukrainians.

The productive use of a HIMARS is crystal clear to the Ukrainians, as they desperately try to protect their state sovereignty and way of life. As clear evidence of Russian barbarism and allegations of genocide pile up, they may even be fighting to survive as a people.

  • If weapons are fired aimlessly and are therefore relatively costless, then they are also purely wasted human and financial capital.

  • If they are fired with purpose and destroy some country's capital stock, people or livestock then that is even worse - it isn't just wasted but punitive.

And every day in Ukraine, the war destroys cities, agricultural land, lives etc. It is the ultimate example in pointlessly destroying a valuable (if flawed) productive society.

And Ukraine is hardly alone:

We are increasingly living in an age of war, you just may not have realized it until recently.

We might deplore this state of affairs. But there is no point pretending it isn't happening.

There is also, rather uncomfortably, someone gaining every time a trigger is pulled in Ukraine or elsewhere. Many of these individuals are shareholders of defense companies.

As we have mentioned before, there is a way to take advantage of an age of war. Military spending is rising. That spending produces profits as well as weapons.

And, yes, this is flowing through into stock prices.

Here is a chart of a few defense sector ETFs compared to the S&P 500 this year:

As you can see they are robustly outperforming the larger index. And for good reason. Wars are good business for some.

Hate that you own these? We can help? Want exposure to this theme? We can also help. Or you can investigate the above.

The usual caveats apply about expense ratios, to be mindful about what these ETFs actually contain and how they perform under different conditions.


Have questions? Care to find out more? Feel free to reach out at or join our Slack community to meet more like-minded individuals and see what we are talking about today. All are welcome.


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