A fellow investor once tweeted to me, "Guns and prisons all day." While it sounds like a bumper sticker in Alabama, it was a reference to stocks. The latter might not be as bulletproof a thesis as it once was, given that there is evidence that U.S. prison populations are declining, but the former is still right on target. Gun stocks seem to thrive in two polar scenarios: when there is fear guns are going away, and when it looks like guns are here to stay. The most recent example is Smith & Wesson (NASDAQ:SWHC), which hit record sales amid fierce gun control debates in Washington.
For Smith & Wesson's fiscal fourth quarter, the company came in slightly ahead of Wall Street's expectations on both top-line revenues, and bottom-line earnings. Top-line sales hit $178.7 million -- a record for the company, and about $2.1 million ahead of consensus estimates. The number also represents a 38% gain over the prior year's quarter.
On the bottom line, non-GAAP EPS came in at $0.44 per share -- 63% higher than 2012's fourth quarter, and $0.01 over analyst expectations. Margins improved across the board.
The gunmaker booked its sales boom based on a now-familiar thesis: People buy (lots) of guns when they are worried that they are going to be taken away. Even though the final version of the once-strict gun control bill passed with little effect on the average gun owner, the discussion leading up to it was enough to scare people into the gun stores, arming up Charlton Heston style.
The perfect stock?
Despite frequent outcries for change, America's love of guns seems to persevere. According to a recent report, it's not that more and more Americans are choosing to become gun owners, but that existing gun owners are just buying more guns. Aside from becoming the most popular house in the neighborhood in the event of a zombie apocalypse, these buyers are the perfect customer for companies like Smith & Wesson, or Sturm, Ruger, & Co. (NYSE:RGR). They are constantly worried that the government will nix access to handguns and automatic weapons, and panic-buy as many as they can.
Since the beginning of Obama's first term, Sturm, Ruger's stock has gone absolutely bananas -- up more than 700%. Smith & Wesson is up more than 400%, though with more volatility.
It may not be the most socially conscious investment, or anywhere close, for that matter, but guns are a big, growing business in the United States.
As a recent Forbes article points out, the best time to own stocks is during debate -- whether to tighten or loosen the grip on guns. The mellower the conversation becomes, the softer the sales. And, though the gun debate has tapered off in recent months, it is still a hot topic on many politicians' "to eventually do something about" list.
Even after pushing through incredible sales and stock gains, these companies may still shoot higher, yet.
Fool contributor Michael Lewis has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Sturm, Ruger. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.