As Iraq seethes with danger, big war contractor Halliburton ( HAL) is attracting swarms of defenders -- on Wall Street. Recent weeks have highlighted the huge risks facing civilians in the U.S.-led rebuilding push. Every day seems to bring terrorist attacks resulting in casualties or frightening near-misses. Thirty Halliburton workers die. Another seven go missing. The company expresses sadness, even anger. But the war effort marches on, and the company -- which delivers mail, prepares meals and launders uniforms for U.S. soldiers -- must continue to do its part. For the big Houston-based oil services outfit, that means training new recruits to join a burgeoning Iraq unit. For investors, it means focusing on Halliburton's opportunities to boost profits -- and recognizing that the most tragic losses never really drop to the bottom line. Indeed, even as Iraqi expenses mount and safety threats grow, one expert sees little threat to Halliburton's financial well-being. David Edwards of Heron Capital Management believes that others -- including U.S. taxpayers -- will end up eating the soaring costs instead. "They'll go back to the Pentagon and say: 'Pay us more money. We're clearly in danger over here,'" says Edwards, who owns stock in Halliburton and other oil service names. "A lot of the terrorism has relatively little economic impact on the companies." Although flat at $29.76 Wednesday -- and down 9% from last month's 52-week high -- Halliburton shares have climbed some 42% over the past year.
Halliburton relies on more than 24,000 employees and contractors -- equal to roughly 25% of its global workforce -- to satisfy huge, and sometimes controversial, contracts with the federal government. In addition to supporting military logistics, Halliburton workers drive trucks and work to restore Iraq's valuable oil assets. But sometimes, they also disappear -- or even die -- in the process. "The world has been made aware of the threat in Iraq to civilian contractors supporting the troops and Iraqis only recently," says Wendy Hall, director of public relations at Halliburton. But "our employees were prepared from day one with the knowledge of the danger and the price that they could pay for their work in Iraq."