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Trump’s election hasn’t helped gun manufacturers

A newly assembled AR-15 rifle at the Stag Arms company in New Britain, Conn., in 2013. (Charles Krupa/AP)

In the more than two years since launching a presidential campaign, Donald Trump has promoted himself as a staunch defender of Second Amendment rights, touted his alliance with the National Rifle Association and scaled back Obama-era restrictions on gun sales and purchases.

Trump’s victory seemed as if it would bring a boon to gunmakers. Yet more than a year into his presidency, the stock performances of gun manufacturers tell a surprising story: Among the nation’s top companies, three — American Outdoor Brands, Vista Outdoor and Sturm, Ruger & Co. — have seen a large drop in the value of their share prices since the day after Trump’s election in November 2016.

The United States’ deep divisions over guns intensified after 17 people — most of them teenagers — were fatally shot at a Florida high school on Feb. 14. Students who survived the massacre have demanded common-sense gun-control legislation from Washington. President Trump and the NRA say guns, in particular the AR-15 used in the shooting, are not to blame. They point to a breakdown in mental-health and law enforcement systems that they say failed to thwart the rampage.

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In the days since, companies including Hertz, Delta Air Lines and MetLife have all cut ties with the NRA. And some people have said investors should steer clear of gunmakers as a statement against the damage done by their wares. Another argument, however, is that the biggest U.S. gunmakers are not the strong investments they once were — badly lagging the otherwise strong market performance since Trump won the presidency.

Gun sales had sharply climbed during the Obama era, when gun enthusiasts feared the federal government was going to ramp up gun control. As gun sales rose, so did company profits and share prices.

Experts say Trump’s victory — and the return of Republicans to power — erased much of that anxiety.

Under President Barack Obama “people said, ‘We better go out and purchase the guns now while we can,’ ” said Michael Busler, a professor of finance at Stockton University. “Then when President Trump was elected, they felt exactly the opposite.”

American Outdoor Brands, which manufactures firearms and accessories, is also the holding company for Smith & Wesson, which made the AR-15 used in the Parkland, Fla., shooting. From the day after Trump’s election through Friday, the value price of a share of American Outdoor Brands was down 58.54 percent. The company did $903 million in net sales in 2017, including $772 million from firearms.

In the same period, the share value of Vista Outdoor, which manufactures shooting products and outdoor goods, from CamelBak water bottles to Blazer ammunition, dropped nearly 52 percent. The company’s website lists 50 brands produced, including 13 under its shooting sports division. That division did more than $1 billion in sales in 2017.

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Share prices for Sturm, Ruger & Co. dropped 9.4 percent in value since Trump’s election. The company manufactures pistols, revolvers, rifles and accessories and brought in $522 million in net firearm and castings sales in 2017.

The S&P 500 marched steadily higher over the same period, finishing up 27 percent through Friday.

One outlier was Olin, a manufacturer of chemicals and ammunition, which saw an increase in share value of 42 percent over the same period. Olin’s ammunition-generating segment, Winchester, generated $729 million in sales in 2016, the last year for which data is available.

The surprise, experts say, isn’t so much that the stocks dipped after Trump’s election. Rather, the shock was Trump’s election itself. Many gun enthusiasts were braced for Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, to win the presidency, which might have kept them adding to their stockpiles.

Still, it remains to be seen how the trend will play out in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland — and what effect political rhetoric might have on businesses.

“The NRA scare tactics spur increased sales for the gunmakers, which in turn support the NRA financially. It all plays into everyone’s hands,” said Jon Hale, Morningstar’s director of sustainability research. “Since Trump came into office, that threat has declined. At least until, potentially, now.”

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