Cerberus: We want out of gun bizDecember 18, 2012: 6:30 AM ET
Bushmaster rifle owner decides to sell the company.
FORTUNE -- Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management announced early this morning that it plans to sell Freedom Group, a firearms conglomerate that produced the .223 Bushmaster rifle used in last week's elementary school massacre.
Here is the firm's statement, in full:
We were shocked and deeply saddened by the events that took place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on December 14, 2012. We cannot comprehend the losses suffered by the families and friends of those killed by the unthinkable crimes committed that day. No words or actions can lessen the enormity of this event or make a dent in the pain that was inflicted on so many.
In 2006 affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. made a financial investment in Freedom Group. Freedom Group does not sell weapons or ammunition directly to consumers, through gun shows or otherwise. Sales are made only to federally licensed firearms dealers and distributors in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. We do not believe that Freedom Group or any single company or individual can prevent senseless violence or the illegal use or procurement of firearms and ammunition.
It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level. The debate essentially focuses on the balance between public safety and the scope of the Constitutional rights under the Second Amendment. As a Firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers. Our role is to make investments on behalf of our clients who are comprised of the pension plans of firemen, teachers, policemen and other municipal workers and unions, endowments, and other institutions and individuals. It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators.
There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take. Accordingly, we have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group. We will retain a financial advisor to design and execute a process to sell our interests in Freedom Group, and we will then return that capital to our investors. We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and communities impacted by this tragic and devastating event.
To be clear, this is not a financial decision by Cerberus.
Freedom Group's value today is artificially low, judging by the plunging stock prices of publicly-traded gun makers like Smith & Wesson (SWHC) and Sturm Ruger & Co. (RGR). Moreover, it's difficult to imagine that another private equity firm would agree to buy the company from Cerberus -- which had tried to take Freedom Group public several years back, but was stymied by weakening sales and management shakeups. My best guess is that a foreign firearms company will be the eventual buyer at a major discount.
What we still don't know if what pressure, if any, Cerberus limited partners brought to bear on the firm since last Friday. Yesterday we reported that one of the largest investors in Cerberus private equity funds was the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which subsequently said it would review its indirect investment in Freedom Group (it made no such pledge following the Aurora shooting, where a Bushmaster rifle also was used).
Truth is, however, an LP like CalSTRS really can't do much after the original fund commitment is made, save for a secondary sale of its entire fund stake (which is why I argued it should have been proactive, rather than reactive). Unless, of course, it and others helped prod Cerberus into this morning's decision -- reminding the firm that they sometimes want their fund managers to focus more on the sense than the dollars.
Update: Bloomberg is reporting that the father of Cerberus founder and CEO Stephen Feinberg is a resident of Newtown, Connecticut. No word yet on if this factored into the firm's decision-making process...
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