They say that there is an exchange traded fund for just about every investment strategy out there. So how about a “pure gun” ETF? There are aerospace and defense ETFs, but not an ETF geared mostly around guns, bullets, and accessories for them. This may seem silly on the surface, going into efforts from the White House and legislation for stricter gun control and an assault weapons ban. If not an ETF, what about a closed-end fund? In all seriousness, this investment strategy could have some merit, regardless of how gun control plays out.
For starters, a Wall Street Journal poll showed that President Obama’s efforts (or Vice President Biden’s efforts) face a very tough road ahead in Congress. What if no ban at all passes through the House and Senate? Many democrats are said to be mixed on this issue, and Republicans are generally (and arguably) considered to oppose gun control efforts.
One thing that really stands out is that this is not formally gun control, at least that is how to think of it if you only listen to words rather than interpreting words and phrases. After all, Obama and Biden are more than careful in avoiding the phrase “gun control” in each and every speech and each and every statement. That is called spin, and is really no different from avoiding the term “global warming” in favor of the newer term “climate change.”
So what would a pure gun ETF actually look like? For starters, the stock ticker GUN is not taken. Other possible tickers that are not taken include NRA, SHOT, MOW, RIFL, ARAK, AKAR, KILL, SEMI and SNYP. There are three aerospace and defense sector ETFs: PowerShares Aerospace & Defense (NYSEMKT: PPA), iShares Dow Jones U.S. Aerospace & Defense (NYSEMKT: ITA) and SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense (NYSEMKT: XAR). This might sound a lot like being close enough to a gun ETF, but if you review the top 10 holdings of each ETF there are literally no companies that are deemed to be mostly “gun” companies.
Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. (NASDAQ: SWHC) is a pure-play gun stock. It was founded in 1852 and its brands and products are known as Smith & Wesson, the M&P, the Thompson/Center and Walther. Its fiscal 2012 sales were $412 million and net income from operations was $44.9 million, with a final net income of $16.1 million.
Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc. (NYSE: RGR) was founded in 1948 and is based in Southport, Connecticut. This is another pure play in the gun industry with the Ruger name. Fiscal sales were almost $329 million in 2011, with income from operations and net income of $40 million.
Cabela’s Inc. (NYSE: CAB) has a much more focused approach on the outdoors in hunting and fishing. It dates back to 1961 and is based in Sidney, Nebraska. It calls itself a specialty retailer and direct marketer of hunting, fishing, camping and related outdoor merchandise. With only about 40 stores, its 2011 fiscal sales were $2.81 billion, with operating income from operations of $231 million.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (NYSE: DKS) is truly a diversified sports store and comes from Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. Its 2012 sales were $5.2 billion. In 2011 its Hardlines unit, which includes guns, generated 52% of its sales. But we would caution that this unit includes sporting goods equipment, fitness equipment, hunting and fishing gear and golf equipment. That is not apparel or footwear sales. Hunting products include rifles, shotguns, ammunition, global positioning systems, hunting apparel, optics and more.
Olin Corp. (NYSE: OLN) is a manufacturer concentrated in three business segments: Chlor Alkali Products, Chemical Distribution and Winchester. Winchester is listed on Olin’s site as being in its 146th year of operation and in its 82nd year as part of Olin. Winchester’s line of products include sporting ammunition, reloading components, small caliber military ammunition and components and industrial cartridges. U.S. Repeating Arms Company in New Haven, Connecticut, now produces Winchester brand rifles and shotguns under license from Olin Corp. Winchester segment income was $37.9 million in 2011, compared to $63.0 million in 2010, while 2011 net income for all of Olin was $242 million in 2011 and only $65 million in 2010.
There is also Alliant Techsystems Inc. (NYSE: ATK), an aerospace and defense player. Even by defense contractor and supplier terms it is small compared to larger peers, with $4.6 billion in its fiscal year 2012 sales. ATK was launched as an independent company in 1990, when Honeywell spun off its defense businesses to shareholders. It has three business units: ATK Aerospace Group, ATK Defense Group and ATK Sporting Group. That sporting group includes sporting and law enforcement ammunition, and tactical and shooting accessories. It also supplies all levels of military ammunition. ATK’s Armament Systems generated 34% of ATK’s external sales in fiscal 2012, and it develops and produces military small-, medium- and large-caliber ammunition, precision munitions, gun systems and propellant and energetic materials. Not all of those are “gun” sales and that is more military. In fiscal 2012, the company produced about 1.5 billion rounds of small caliber ammunition in the Lake City Army Ammunition plant and is under contract with the U.S. Army to operate it. The prime contract at Lake City accounted for approximately 15% of ATK’s total revenue in fiscal 2012. The Security and Sporting business line generated 22% of ATK’s external sales in fiscal 2012, and it is that unit that would be most tied to guns, if you took the domestic and consumer angle. Maybe the proposed gun ETF would apply much more than this to the weighting.
Would Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) have to be included in a gun ETF since it sells guns? If so, it would have to be a very small weighting, as Walmart is said to be the largest gun and ammo seller in America. Walmart’s fiscal 2012 sales in total were $447 billion a year ago. Even if a total and outright gun ban (imposed or elective by the company) occurred, it would be small potatoes for Walmart.
Would TASER International Inc. (NASDAQ: TASR) be included? It makes the famed or notorious TASER weapon used by law enforcement officials worldwide. While there have been wrongful death lawsuits from this, we always wonder why they do not just do a poll asking people who are prone to resisting arrest whether they want to be hit by a TASER, a hollow-point .45 slug from a pistol or those metal batons that police use. It would be logical that everyone would rather be subdued by a TASER rather than by getting shot or cracked over the head with a billy club.
The private equity giant Cerberus is not publicly traded, but it owns Freedom Group, which was created after it acquired Bushmaster in 2006. A Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle was used in the most recent school massacre. Cerberus is now planning on selling off its interest, in the aftermath of the December school massacre. What if Bushmaster is sold to another arms and munitions maker? Then it might become part of a gun ETF weighting.
What about video game companies? These have been mentioned year after year, as lawmakers and regulators target video games where children blow away people, creatures and structures in all the first-person shooter games. And what about the Vice Fund (VICEX)?
If a gun ETF sounds a bit odd because it is a narrow scope, it shouldn’t. There are many ETFs that exist with very narrow scopes that are arguable part of larger themes. These are just some of the other narrowly focused ETFs that could arguable be a part of a larger group:
- Market Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals ETF (NYSEMKT: REMX) tracks only rare earth stocks investing globally.
- Global X Lithium ETF (NYSEMKT: LIT) tracks the global lithium related stocks.
- Global X Social Media Index ETF (NYSEMKT: SOCL) tracks global social media stocks.
- First Trust ISE Cloud Computing Index (NYSEMKT: SKYY) tracks the cloud computing sector, in theory.
- PowerShares Lux Nanotech (NYSEMKT: PXN) tracks companies involved in nanotech.
- iPath Global Carbon ETN (NYSEMKT: GRN) tracks the most liquid carbon-related credit plans.
- iShares S&P Global Nuclear Energy Index (NASDAQ: NUCL) tracks the largest globally public traded companies in nuclear energy related businesses.
A gun ETF would undoubtedly not be a very popular idea with the noninvesting public in the current climate. That being said, there are dozens and dozens of ETF strategies out there for investors. We already showed that there are multiple aerospace and defense ETFs, but none of the top 10 holdings in any of those ETFs were geared specifically to guns. The old saying “There’s an ETF for that!” does not apply to the gun segment of the defense sector.
Jon C. Ogg