Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) Stock Could Underperform for Years

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Military contractor Alliant Techsystems Inc. (NYSE:ATK), née Alliant Techsystems, is bulking up its consumer firearms business — and that’s not a good thing for ATK stock.

Over the past half-year, Alliant Techsystems Inc. (NYSE:ATK) has spent $1.2 billion on acquisitions to expand its presence in the consumer firearms (hunting and target shooting) market. And sure, on the one hand, this is understandable, given the limited prospects analysts give ATK for growing its business organically, and indeed, the very real risk that a downturn in military spending will cause the company’s earnings to shrink.

Alliant Techsystems Inc. (NYSE:ATK)

That’s the one hand. But it’s Alliant Techsystems Inc. (NYSE:ATK)’s other hand I’m worried about — the hand that’s throwing away ATK’s shareholders’ hard-earned cash on a series of overpriced acquisitions.

A history of bad decisions
ATK spent $315 million buying Savage Sports and its rifles and shotguns business. It will soon spend $985 million more for Bushnell’s shooting accessories portfolio. This adds up to $1.2 billion, or nearly 40% of ATK’s own market cap — a market cap that has doubled, incidentally, over the past year.

Now, if ATK had played things smart, and used the inflated share price of its stock to pay for its acquisitions of Savage and Bushnell, that wouldn’t have been so bad. Instead, the company paid cash for Savage, and plans to pay cash again to acquire Bushnell.

This is cash, incidentally, that Alliant Techsystems Inc. (NYSE:ATK) does not have. What it does have is debt — nearly $1.3 billion in debt, versus less than $100 million in cash in its bank account. And it’s going to have even more debt on its books after taking out $900 million in senior secured financing to fund the Bushnell buyout.

Take Bushnell for example — the company’s more recent, and bigger mistake. By ATK’s own admission, it will take until 2016 for Bushnell to add $1 to ATK’s earnings per share. Alliant Techsystems Inc. (NYSE:ATK) only has 32 million shares outstanding, so this means management hopes that a company — that ATK is paying $985 million to buy today, let’s not forget — might possibly earn it $32 million two years from now.

That works out to ATK paying 32 times (very) forward earnings for its new prize… at a time when ATK’s own shares cost less than 12 times earnings. Now, granted, Bushnell is a bit more profitable than ATK’s core business. (I calculate a 13% EBITDA margin for ATK, 16.4% for its target). But it’s not three times more profitable — which is what it would take to justify paying three times Alliant Techsystems Inc. (NYSE:ATK)’s own P/E ratio for it.

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