Ending fiscal uncertainty would boost economy: Lockheed CEO

Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:05pm EST
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is poised for strong economic growth if political leaders can just move the nation beyond the current "debilitating" budget uncertainty, the chief executive and chairman of Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N: Quote) said on Thursday.

"I see an enormous opportunity for the country to step forward with a more positive growth agenda if we can get resolution for these policy issues," Robert Stevens said, citing promising trends in manufacturing, housing, the energy sector and even consumer sentiment.

Stevens and Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed's president and chief operating officer, spoke with Reuters in wide-ranging interview that also touched on the company's drive to pump up foreign arms sales at a time that U.S. military spending looks set to flatten after a decade of growth.

"Getting a resolution for the fiscal cliff issues takes away a huge amount of uncertainty," said Stevens, who will retire at the end of this month as CEO of Lockheed, the biggest U.S. weapons maker.

He called for a balanced solution that included spending cuts, comprehensive tax reform and additional revenue, but said Washington also needed to tackle immigration reform and the nation's troubled educational system.

Lockheed, which reported revenue of $46.5 billion last year, is the prime contractor for the Pentagon's biggest weapons program, the $396 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It also builds F-16 fighter jets, a broad array of missile defense systems and a new class of coastal warships.

Stevens said his company and others were upbeat about America's future but were holding back on investment, hiring and acquisitions because of what he called "compounding uncertainties" about future tax rates and U.S. budget levels.

"If you could create the climate to unlock some of that liquidity you'd see ... stimulative effect from the business community moving forward," he said.   Continued...

CEO of Lockheed Martin Robert J. Stevens addresses a business roundtable discussion at the Reuters bureau in Washington, December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing