America's biggest gunsmith, Sturm, Ruger reported its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings last night, admitting to its first "earnings miss" in four years.

Ruger's ever-popular "pocket pistol," the .380 Ruger LCP. Photo: Ruger.


Q4 earnings came in at $1.33 per share, or 33% better than the $1 a share Sturm earned one year ago. Nonetheless, these earnings missed analyst estimates by a nickel, and investors are not pleased, selling off Sturm stock to the tune of 11% in early Wednesday trading. Is this an overreaction? Let's find out.

In 2013, Sturm Ruger:

  • Gained market share, with unit sales (from distributors to retailers) growing 18% in a market where NICS background checks (a proxy for gun sales) grew only 7%.
  • Achieved 40% sales growth by dollar value in 2013 -- $688 million.
  • Grew net profits by 58%, and earnings per share 55%, to $5.58 per diluted share.

So far, so good. But not all the news was so good. Among the downsides to Sturm's report is the fact that, for instance, the company's dividend payout is proving highly volatile -- nigh unreliable.

After paying out an astonishing $5.80 in dividends to its shareholders in 2012, Sturm wrapped up 2013 with only $2.12 in dividend payouts. Both numbers were much higher than the firm's $0.43 in dividends paid in 2011, granted. But the fact that Sturm's dividend jumps around so much is one reason the stock may lack support among dividend-hungry investors. If you can't count on a consistent payout from Sturm, and if its earnings are subject to shocks such as we saw last night -- why stick around for the next surprise?

A second issue that may be nagging investors: Despite its superb GAAP earnings, Sturm's production of real cash profits remains subpar. Free cash flow generated in 2013 amounted to only $65.1 million -- less than a 9% increase over 2012 levels.

Result: At a P/E ratio of less than 11 when valued on its GAAP "earnings," Sturm, Ruger looks more expensive than rival Smith & Wesson. Valued on the cash profits it's actually earning, though, Sturm carries a much bigger price tag than meets the eye: 18 times FCF.

Foolish takeaway
Given the unreliability of Sturm's dividend yield, whether that's a good price or a bad price depends largely on how fast you think the company will grow. Yahoo! Finance, sadly, provides no analyst estimate for Sturm's future growth rate. S&P Capital IQ is a bit more helpful, citing one single analyst who postulates a 13.5% growth rate -- which seems too low to support an 18 times multiple on the stock. Meanwhile, Sturm just showed us that in some years, at least, it's entirely capable of growing even slower than that.

If investors are upset with these kinds of numbers, they've got good reason to be.

Invest in a even bigger gunSturm, Ruger isn't a bad company, but it's stock leaves something to be desired -- and we think you can do better. U.S. News & World Report says this trend "Will drive the U.S. economy." And Business Insider calls it "The growth force of our time." In a special report entitled "America's $2.89 Trillion Super Weapon Revealed," you'll learn specific steps you can take to capitalize on this massive growth opportunity. Act now, because this is your shot to cash in before the fat cats on Wall Street beat you to the potentially life-changing profits. Click here now for instant access to this free report.

The article Sturm, Ruger & Company Misfires on Q4 Earnings originally appeared on Fool.com.

Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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