What: Shares of firearms specialist Sturm Ruger & Co (RGR 0.96%) gained 29.8% in 2015, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. Vista Outdoor (VSTO 2.06%), which makes a range of holsters, ammunition, and long guns, saw shares rise 31.1%. Meanwhile, sector giant Smith & Wesson (SWBI 1.08%) more than doubled, delivering a 110.2% return.
So what: It's no secret that demand for firearms and related accessories is skyrocketing in the United States. President Obama has made several impassioned speeches in support of stricter firearms regulation, and is taking executive action on that front in 2016. Mass shootings have become a disturbingly regular background to daily life in America, causing even more calls for limitations on gun sales.
Each anti-gun speech, each terrifying shooting, and every legislative call for tighter restrictions leads to a spike in gun and ammo sales. Some would call this obvious, because Americans must arm themselves while the Second Amendment still stands. Others call it a paradox, because every call for fewer guns inevitably leads to more firearms owned by private Americans.
Now what: Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson investors are not complaining, of course. Strong demand is strong demand, even if it's based on fear and conspiracy theories.
Analyzing recent results from these two gunmakers, a couple of interesting patterns emerge. For Smith & Wesson, background checks in the second quarter rose by 4%, but units shipped to consumers increased by 27.5%. People are buying more guns per background check than they used to. But handgun revenue increased by 18.8%, while the number of units shipped rose 21%, indicating lower prices per gun sold.
In other words, a small number of S&W customers are stocking up on multiple guns, but opting for low-end models most of the time. Similar patterns are at work in Sturm, Ruger. Vista Outdoor is just happy to be along for the ride, because most of its firearms products were never meant for self-defense at all. But high interest in one part of the sector drives strong sales in other corners, as well.
Make what you will of these sales patterns. For me, it looks like a small minority of gun lovers piling up a ton of cheaper guns and ammo just in case the Feds come looking for their high-end weaponry. This insanity has to end at some point, but probably not during an election year with so much political credibility at stake on all sides. I wouldn't be surprised to see these stocks continue to rise in 2016, for all the wrong reasons.