Gun Control Activism Is Risk to Bottom Line, Gun Maker Says

(Bloomberg) -- The maker of Smith & Wesson firearms said gun control activism poses a risk to its business, according to a company filing.

American Outdoor Brand Corp., which on Wednesday reported a 25 percent decline in fiscal fourth-quarter revenue compared with last year, listed the “actions of social activists” as a risk factor in its annual report.

Shares fell as much as 12 percent Thursday in New York, the most intraday in six months, and were down 4.6% to $12.62 at 12:13 p.m. Rival gunmaker Sturm Ruger & Co. fell 4.8 percent to $57.45.

Renewed calls this year for more restrictions on gun ownership motivated buyers who worried that new laws might curb their access to weapons. That anxiety quickly subsided, along with the brief rise in gun sales that it spurred.

With President Donald Trump’s election last year giving Republicans control of both the executive and legislative branches of government, the threat of new gun limits faded. The company cut its profit forecast March 1 and warned that consumer demand had fallen to “new, lower levels.”

That sentiment reversed course later in the month, when federal data pointed to a rise in sales after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida killed 17 students and staff. Another high school shooting in Texas claimed 10 more lives at the end of May.

Demand Rebound

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a barometer for gun purchases, showed a 3 percent increase nationwide in February for long-gun checks, which include shotguns and military-style rifles. In Florida, the category soared 12.6 percent compared with a year earlier. The numbers jumped even higher in March, with long-gun checks rising 17.3 percent.

The enthusiasm was short lived, as background checks fell in April and May, supporting the warning from American Outdoor Chief Executive Officer James Debney in March that the gun maker could “deliver flattish revenues” over the next 12 to 18 months.

“Fiscal 2018 was a year characterized by lower consumer demand for firearms, heightened levels of inventory in the consumer channel, and a host of aggressive, industry-wide promotions,” Debney said in a statement reporting earnings Wednesday.

Exceeding Estimates

American Outdoor reported adjusted earnings of 24 cents a share for the quarter ended April 30, compared with 57 cents a share a year earlier. Analysts had expected 10 cents, based on the average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue declined to $172 million, better than analysts’ expectations of $165.6 million.

Investors in American Outdoor faced backlash following the Florida shooting as students who experienced the attack led the charge in calling for a protest of the firearms industry. Asset manager BlackRock Inc., the gunmaker’s largest shareholder, with more than a 12 percent stake, demanded answers to its questions related to gun safety and the risks associated with selling firearms.

“We do not believe that our stockholders associate the criminal use of a firearm with the company that manufactures it,’’ American Outdoor responded. There would be greater risk “if we were to take political positions with which consumers of our products do not agree.’’

Though American Outdoor has in the past referred to threats from a “variety of economic, social, and political factors,” the company specifically referred to social activists as a risk in its latest report.

Activism Pressure

“Certain activists could pressure our financial institutions, our customers, our vendors, or other businesses and institutions with whom we maintain relationships to adopt actions that are not in the best interests of our company,” the company said.

This kind of activism could impact stock price, financial relationships, and could lead to consumer boycotts, according to the report.

Earlier this year, gunmaker Sturm Ruger & Co. shareholders voted to compel the company to prepare a report on risks related to selling firearms. The proposal followed the Parkland shooting, and much of the shareholder meeting was dedicated to activists’ comments about gun violence.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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