After years in the dog house, gun stocks have come back with a vengeance so far in 2020. And, unlike in the last boom (driven by gun control fears), there have been several tailwinds moving the needle this time.
Firstly, the novel coronavirus pandemic. With uncertainty in the air, and millions of Americans stuck at home, gun demand far outstripped supply. Then, this summer’s civil unrest further fueled firearms sales growth. Not just with gun aficionados, but first-time owners as well.
And now, with the U.S. Presidential election in November, a make-or-break moment for gun stocks could be around the corner. If President Trump wins re-election, this hot sector may take a breather. In 2016, Trump’s surprise win caught gun-makers off guard, leaving them with a glut of firearms and ammunition, as demand cratered.
But, a victory by Democratic candidate Joe Biden could further fuel the rally. Why? Obama-era fears of a “gun grab” may be back on the table. Especially if the Democrats take back the U.S. Senate as well.
On the other hand, being bullish (or bearish) on gun stocks may not be as binary as it was back in 2016. Given a Trump upset could fuel even more civil unrest, gun sales may remain strong even if he wins a second term.
So, what’s the play here? While an electoral upset could take the wind out this sector yet again, continued fear and unrest may mean gun stocks remain red hot. Keep these five in your crosshairs:
- Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN)
- Sturm, Ruger (NYSE:RGR)
- Sportsman’s Warehouse (NASDAQ:SPWH)
- Smith and Wesson (NASDAQ:SWBI)
- Vista Outdoor (NYSE:VSTO)
Gun Stocks: Olin Corporation (OLN)
As our own Josh Enomoto put it Sept. 14, Olin doesn’t exactly rank high on the sexiness chart. Mainly a chemical company, its ammunition unit (Winchester) only makes a small part of its business.
Yet, with the continued sky-high demand for ammo far outstripping supply, strong results out of the Winchester unit could help move the needle further for OLN stock.
And, unlike most of the gun stocks listed here, this name remains far below its pre-pandemic prices. Strength in the ammo business could help propel shares from today’s prices (under $14 per share) back to pre-outbreak levels (just below $20 per share).
But, that’s not all. Given the stock’s juicy dividend yield of 6.3%, even without the ammunition tailwinds this stock looks like a strong opportunity. Put it all together, and Olin remains a name to keep on your radar.
Sturm, Ruger (RGR)
Back in July, I made the argument why RGR stock may be a better handgun stock than Smith & Wesson (more below). Namely, the company’s stronger balance sheet relative to its highly levered rival.
Yet now, Ruger shares may not have the edge. How so? Firstly, the recent special dividend means the company’s war-chest isn’t as filled up as it once was. With this in mind, my prior speculation the company would use the cash to buy rival gun makers seems like less of a possibility.
Also, valuation-wise, RGR looks richly priced. Shares currently sport an Enterprise Value/EBITDA (EV/EBITDA) ratio of 9.5x, far above the 5.1x EBITDA multiple for S&W. Granted, with this year’s gun sale windfall, using current valuation metrics may not be so relevant. Near-term results may wind up being a one-time event.
This could be the reason why both stocks have sold off since August. Nevertheless, this gun stock correction could be a “buy the dip” opportunity for investors. Especially given how firearm (especially handgun) sales may remain strong, no matter who wins the Presidency.
So, is Ruger a buy? That depends on your risk appetite. Don’t bet the ranch, but keep this gun maker and its major rival top of mind through the Nov. 3 election.
Gun Stocks: Sportsman’s Warehouse (SPWH)
Gun-buying trends aren’t just moving shares of firearm and ammo manufacturers. They’ve moved sporting goods stocks as well. Not Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS), of course. That major sporting goods chain got out of the gun business. But, Sportsman’s Warehouse, along with its rival, Big Five (NASDAQ:BGFV), are heavily exposed to the current tailwinds.
Yet, SPWH stock may be a better opportunity than its publicly traded peer. How so? Firstly, the epic rally in Big Five shares may mean most of the upside in its turnaround is already priced into shares.
Sportsman’s is also a slightly cheaper stock, with a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 9x, compared to a forward P/E of 10.8x for BGFV. But, that’s not all! This company has lower levels of leverage, meaning less downside risk if we see a reversal in fortune for firearms and ammo retailers.
However, that doesn’t mean shares can’t head lower from here. With the stock more than tripling off its lows thanks to recent events, shares could see an epic selloff if the fears and tensions driving sales today dissipate.
That’s not to say it’s high time to sell or go short. But, there’s no harm in exercising some caution when chasing this “too hot to touch” sector. Like the other names listed here, keep on your radar, and see whether the risk/return proposition remains in your favor. All of that makes it one of the more standout gun stocks to buy if the timing looks right.
Smith & Wesson (SWBI)
As I discussed above, Smith & Wesson is starting to look like the stronger handgun stock. This highly levered company has seen its shares vastly outperform rival Ruger.
But, after the recent pullback, there could be more potential for outsized gains with SWBI stock. How so? Firstly, shares today are priced as if the recent blockbuster results are a “one-and-done” event.
Granted, it’s possible 2020 is simply 2016 redux for the firearms makers. If Trump secures a second term, gun control will again be off the table. And, yet again, this company could be caught with excess inventory and lowered demand.
On the other hand, as this commentator noted a few weeks back, this risk hasn’t scared off analysts at Lake Street Capital. The sell-side research firm reiterated its prior “buy” rating, and revised its price target to $27 per share.
Given shares trade for around $15 per share, there could be significant potential gains, if Lake Street’s bull thesis plays out. Namely, the analysts believe the recent higher-than-expected gross margins could continue, as Smith & Wesson meets market demand for firearms.
Sure, shares could tumble back to single-digits if the current situation does a 180. But, given civil unrest could accelerate, not decelerate, post-election, there’s still good reason to go long gun stocks like SWBI today.
Gun Stocks: Vista Outdoor (VSTO)
Shares in ammo maker Vista Outdoor have cooled in recent weeks. Yet, the stock is still up more than four-fold from its pandemic sell-of lows. And, that’s no surprise. Yes, the handgun space has seen a tremendous rebound in 2020. But, that pales in comparison to the red-hot demand for ammunition.
As our own Muslim Farooque wrote Sept. 2, adjusted earnings soared 738% year-over-year in the first quarter, with e-commerce sales fueling much of the boost. But, even as shares have produced triple-digit returns for investors, there may be even more runway for VSTO stock.
How so? Shares remain far below where they were during the ammo industry’s prior boom. Back in 2016, the stock traded for around $50 per share, far above today’s prices (around $19 per share).
Sure, many things have changed for Vista in the years since. But, while a full rebound may not be in the cards, there’s still big time runway here. At least, that’s the view of B. Riley’s Eric Wold.
Earlier this month, the analyst upgraded shares to “buy,” with a price target of $30 per share. His rationale? Like with firearm sales, ammo sales may wind being more than a one-time windfall. And the rise in new gun owners could also mean an even greater base demand.
In short, the party may be far from over for ammo stocks like Vista Outdoor. Yes, volatility remains. But, as the salad days continue for this industry, there’s still potential gains left on the table.
On the date of publication, Thomas Niel did not (either directly or indirectly) hold any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.
Thomas Niel, contributor to InvestorPlace, has written single stock analysis since 2016.