Well, so much for the Great Gun Demand Deflation analysts were expecting. The FBI just reported it logged more than 27.7 million background checks on potential gun buyers in 2016, up 19% (4.4 million) from 2015, which itself was a record year.
However, one record did fall by the wayside: the string of consecutive months of higher background check numbers. Through November, the FBI had notched 19 straight months of record levels of investigations, but in December, it conducted 2.7 million, less than the 3.3 million it had performed in December 2015. It's a decline that would seem to validate the concern analysts had that American Outdoor Brands (NASDAQ: AOBC) (formerly Smith & Wesson) and Sturm, Ruger (NYSE: RGR) would suffer in the post-Obama era.
It has been an article of faith that President Obama was one of the leading causes of higher gun sales because of his rhetoric pushing for tighter gun control. Although he achieved few successes on that score, he was often called "the world's greatest gun salesman." Yet it was largely fear for personal safety that drove most gun sales as light, compact and easily concealed models from Smith & Wesson and Ruger topped the best-selling guns list.
With the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, analysts believed the impetus to buy guns now before tighter access laws were enacted had been taken off the table. And though the December numbers would suggest they might be right, it should be noted last month's background check numbers were the third highest for a December since the FBI began tracking them in the late 1990s. Only last year and December 2012 -- which was the month of the tragic Sandy Hook elementary school shooting -- saw higher levels.
American Outdoor Brands, which took on that new name to reflect its new focus on the rugged outdoors market it is entering, says it sees gun sales normalizing, which it views as an opportunity for it to take market share from its rivals. But it also likely hopes the name change will somewhat deflect investors' view of the company from its firearms unit, so that when there are events like this drop in monthly gun checks, its shares will be less volatile. Sturm, Ruger's closed down 1% Wednesday, but was up about 2% in midday trading Thursday. American Outdoor Brands, by contrast, fell nearly 3% Wednesday, and was trading virtually flat around midday Thursday.
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