Apocalyptic fears have gripped the minds of Americans over the past few years, and Hollywood has capitalized on them with movies, television series and reality shows. While a zombie virus may be far-fetched, fears of inflation and market volatility are better grounded in reality.
Out of Alabama comes a story that underlines what becomes important if inflation really does get out of control. A would-be car buyer whose credit was less than exemplary made an unconventional down payment -- a shotgun.
While this is certainly more of a lesson in subprime lending standards going beyond real estate, there is a small sliver of knowledge to take away here. In a highly inflationary environment, gold becomes less important than "real" hard assets -- practical items like food, water, shelter and, of course, weapons.
Before the survivalists start sending this article to everyone they know, let's step back and take a look at the gun-making industry from a pragmatic point of view. We know that fear creates opportunities for profit, and this is reflected in the number of gun sales amid the Obama administration's position on gun control.
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Shares of gun makers have soared this year: Smith & Wesson (Nasdaq: SWHC) is up 34%, and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (NYSE: RGR) is up 63%. Even after Congress rejected new restrictions on gun ownership, these companies have continued to post record gains.
Smith & Wesson has been reporting impressive numbers and yet remains undervalued by Wall Street. It has a price-to-earnings growth (PEG) ratio of just 0.3, and in its most recent quarter, earnings rose 42% from the same period last year. Margins have been climbing as well, to 42% from last year's 37%. Management is optimistic and has raised its expectations for next year, to $615 million in revenue and earnings per share (EPS) in the range of $1.30 to $1.35. The company also expects annual growth of more than 30% over the next five years.
Smith & Wesson's price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of just 8.5 compares favorably with its largest competitor, Sturm Ruger, which trades at 15.3 times earnings. Smith & Wesson looks better from a price-to-sales standpoint as well, at 1.2 versus 2.3 for Sturm Ruger. The fact that Sturm Ruger reported EPS gains of 72% but has a forward P/E of 18 is evidence that the Street views its growth as unsustainable.
Smith & Wesson is also committed to developing better products, as seen in its increase in R&D spending, up to $1.3 million from $1.1 million in the same quarter last year. The focus on superior weapon manufacturing seems to be paying off. Recently, the company signed a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Police Department, which was impressed by the quality of its trademark M&P pistol series.
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Smith & Wesson is growing at more than twice the industry's expected rate of 13%, but considering that it's trading at less than 9 times earnings, SWHC would still look like a buy if it were growing at half its expected rate. SHWC currently does not pay a dividend, but management recently announced a $15 million round of share buybacks.
The average analyst target price for this stock is about $13.50, which gives Smith & Wesson 27% upside from current price levels.
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Risks to Consider: The full impact of the government shutdown has yet to be determined and may negatively affect the company in the short term. Gun laws and regulations are always a political issue, and adverse developments could weigh on the stock.
Action to Take --> Smith & Wesson appears undervalued at its current price, and its expected growth rate, share buybacks and R&D spending -- to say nothing of the charged political environment around gun control -- are potential catalysts. Diversified investors may want to consider adding SWHC to their portfolios.