As the Taser Turns

Before today's open, everybody's favorite non-lethal weapons manufacturer (your "conducted energy weapons" company), Taser (Nasdaq: TASR  ) , reported exceptional first-quarter results. Sales were up 286%. Net income was up 1,450%. Both fell within the range of analyst estimates.

Clearly, this gem is no longer hidden. Merely in anticipation of good earnings and a positive conference call this morning, the stock surged to an all-time high yesterday. At one point, the stock was up 12.5% on the day and had gained 6,400% over the last 52 weeks.

Investor interest was also evidenced by today's conference call, starting with 280 listeners -- up from 120 last quarter. Just like rising smoke gets noticed, so does a soaring stock. And when was the last time a conference call started with a discussion of a Viacom (NYSE: VIA  ) CBS News Report (under the pretense of decrying media sensationalism)?

Unfortunately for shareholders, in the conference call's wake, the stock that defied gravity for more than a year stunned the hands that hold it. In morning trading, Taser was down more than 15% and more than 20% from yesterday's high. Talk about a lethal weapon.

Taser now trades at roughly 100 times its projected 2004 earnings. What could possibly justify so rich a valuation? A few things, maybe.

For one, existing customers are being encouraged to upgrade to a newer model that's 60% smaller and lighter. Indeed, plenty of officers in the U.S. are still without a Taser -- and the international market (with the U.K. and France doing evaluations) is just starting to warm up.

Military uses are also under study in Iraq and new weapons systems are under development with General Dynamics (NYSE: GD  ) . In July, a consumer model will be available, and in two years, the company plans to introduce an "extended range electronic projectile" that is wireless and effective at up to 100 meters. That's a pretty full pipeline.

Over time, there will be ongoing sales of "cartridges" -- the Taser equivalent of ammo. Just as Gillette (NYSE: G  ) enjoys ongoing revenue from razor blade sales, Taser will sell cartridges to replace those used for training and on the job. Existing lethal weapons manufactures like Smith & Wesson (AMEX: SWB  ) and Sturm, Ruger (NYSE: RGR  ) would love to own their ammunition markets. Taser does.

But is Taser -- or anything for that matter -- safe now that it's up 5,000% and trading at 100 times forward earnings? Rather than wrestle with that complex and perilous question, consider taking a page out of Motley Fool Hidden Gems and dig up other small companies that have strong business prospects and solid management and are exhibiting early-stage growth.

Sure, it's been fun, but riding investor bandwagons is notoriously harrowing.

Looking for the next home run? Take a free trial of Motley Fool Hidden Gems.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty was amused that the slide presentation for the conference call "had technical problems" and eventually crashed. He does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned.

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