Is Investing In Gun Companies A Safe Bet? I Don’t Think So But Some Might Disagree.

I love when The New York Times, the so-called newspaper of record, publishes an interview with a quick-buck artist who bought shares of Smith & Wesson after the massacre at Sandy Hook and tells us that “some” Wall Street investors see gun companies as a good buy. Meanwhile, if you bother to read Julie Creswell’s entire article, you quickly learn that the real Wall Street money – institutional funds – are staying as far away from gun investments as they can.  And the reason for this is very simple, namely, that putting money into a publicly-owned gun company represents an investment in an enterprise whose value has little or nothing to do with the health and business prospects of the enterprise at all.

nyt logo              I recall that in September, 2012, there wasn’t a Republican who didn’t believe that all the polls showing Obama beating Romney had to be wrong.  After all, how could a President get re-elected with an unemployment rate that was holding at 8%? It’s the economy, stupid.  Remember that?  Meanwhile when voters went to the polls in 1992, the unemployment rate was 7%, so no way Obama was going to go back to the White House again. And there wasn’t a retail dealer in the country, including myself, who could figure out what to do with all the inventory that was sitting on our shelves, because we knew that if Romney got elected, gun sales would collapse.

Well Romney didn’t get elected and several weeks later we had the awful shooting at Sandy Hook.  And the result of that massacre was a spike in gun sales, and another spike when Obama started pushing a gun-control bill, and now another spike because Obama’s promoting his own gun-control initiatives regardless of whether Congress wants to go along or not.  Even the NRA, which has been peddling a paranoid vision of Obama doing something drastic in his lame-duck term, admitted that the proposals were fairly mild and didn’t add up to all that much.

But let’s go back to the NYT article and focus on the data used by Julie Creswell to drive her argument home.  The article contains a graphic showing how the stock prices of Smith & Wesson and Ruger have climbed over the last several years. Note that the S&W share price was around $16 in mid-2014 and then fell like a rock to under $10 at the beginning of 2015.  During roughly the same period, Ruger stock dropped from $75 a share to $35.  Both stocks began climbing again in the 2nd quarter of last year, but the price that is now attracting traders like Louis Navellier isn’t s reflection of the gun industry’s long-term health, it’s a classic bubble which, like all bubbles, will soon burst and the stock will die.

Why do I say that?  Because the collapse of those stock prices back in 2014 was the result of the gun industry discovering that even after Sandy Hook and Aurora, the ability of the gun market to absorb new inventory could only go so far.  It took gun makers a year to ramp up production once it began to look like a gun-control effort would succeed, but by the time all that additional product got through wholesale distribution and onto retail shelves, the mad rush into gun shops had slowed down.

The gun industry can talk all it wants about how fears of terrorist and/or criminal violence are creating a new customer base.  They can have Colion Noir pitching to the inner-city market and Dana Loesch speaking on behalf of ‘America’s Moms,’ but it just doesn’t work.  The only folks who remain convinced that you can protect yourself from gun violence by responding with gun violence are the folks who keep buying guns whenever they believe they won’t be able to buy guns.  The truth is that investors who put their money into gun companies aren’t really investing in the gun industry, they’re investing in fears that the industry won’t survive another Sandy Hook.  Maybe it won’t.

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