OKLAHOMA CITY -- With its huge buyout of Armor Holdings, U.K. defense contractor BAE Systems ( BAESY) may have very well gotten more than its money's worth. Notably, just weeks before that transaction closed, Armor landed a surprise $519 million deal to supply the U.S. military with 1,170 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles. With similar MRAP business of its own, BAE has suddenly burst forward as a new leader in the multibillion-dollar MRAP game. This story is the fourth installment in TheStreet.com's five-part series examining the top players in the multibillion-dollar MRAP bidding. "In 2007 to date, BAE plus AH have captured ... No. 1 market share -- ahead of Force Protection ( FRPT) and International Military and Government," a unit of Navistar ( NAVZ), noted JPMorgan analyst Harry Breach, whose firm has investment banking ties to BAE. Moreover, "we believe that further MRAP awards are likely later this year." Therefore, he added, "BAE is our favorite stock in our sector. ... We are reiterating our overweight" rating. BAE shares trade mostly in London, where they've been in the middle of their 52-week range of late. Just six weeks ago, BAE shares spiraled toward their lowest price of the year after the U.S. launched a criminal probe into possible bribes paid by the company in exchange for business overseas. To make matters worse, in a troubling report issued that very same week, U.S. officials raised serious questions about Armor's own government business here at home.
With both companies under scrutiny, some feared that their marriage plans -- meant to create "the premiere global defense" player in the sector -- could unravel. Instead, however, events quickly took a turn for the best. Days after revealing the U.S. criminal probe, BAE snagged a big MRAP award that clearly indicated that the U.S. remained comfortable doing business with the company. Then, less than three weeks later, Armor scored an even bigger MRAP contract of its own. Moreover, right after that, the U.S. government announced that it had found "no issues of national security to warrant further investigation" of BAE. Meanwhile, the U.S. military -- rather than Armor itself -- seemed to make the biggest missteps documented by government officials reviewing the company's past defense awards. As a result, even worried investors began to assume that BAE's $4.5 billion buyout of Armor would easily win the government's blessing and go through as planned. BAE, in fact, finalized the deal on July 31. Meanwhile, industry experts have marveled at BAE's rapid recovery and predicted a healthy future for the newly combined company. Defense Industry Daily continues to closely monitor the MRAP competition, in particular, and raise BAE's score. "By June 20, 2007,
BAE sat in fourth place with orders for just 90 vehicles -- 2.8% of the total," the trade publication wrote last month. "It had to be a humbling experience for the firm that went into 2004 as the world leader in the field.
"BAE still has some catching up to do," the publication added. "But recent contracts have put them solidly back into the competition." In an update since that time, which includes Armor's new order, Defense Industry Daily put BAE in "a close second place" behind only Force Protection. Experts such as Breach, who are tracking only MRAP orders awarded this year, peg BAE as the outright leader.