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Traders pared their bets against gun stocks after the Florida school shooting

Investors reduced their short positions in stocks of major gun and ammunition manufacturers and gun sellers in the weeks following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, data shows.

A report from S3 Partners reviewed by Yahoo Finance found that despite a national outcry against guns and gun manufacturers, investors expected prices to increase in February, even after the shooting.

An increase in short positions show that investors believe a stock’s price will fall. If investors believe a stock will rise in price, they will reduce their short bets.

The S3 data showed that investors reduced their short positions for the month period ending Feb. 28 in almost every major U.S. gun maker – including Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR); American Outdoor Brands Corporation (AOBC); and Olin Corporation (OLN); as well as for gun retailer Sportsman’s Warehouse (SPWH). The lone exception was Vista Outdoor Inc. (VSTO), which saw an increase in short positions to nearly $175 million from $148 million in January.

Short positions in Olin fell by nearly half to $66 million for February from $120 million in January.

Conversely, short sellers increased their bets on a decrease in stock price for Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS), which said it would no longer sell assault style weapons after the shooting. Short positions in Dick’s rose from $355 million in January to $358 million at the end of February.

The stock price of Ruger and American Outdoor Brands rallied Thursday, despite big losses for the market overall, to rise 5.0% and 4.5% respectively. In after-hours trading, AOBC’s stock was last down 16.5% following a weak earnings report. Ruger was down about 4% in after hours trading.

While short sellers are down $8.4 million in mark-to-market losses in these gun-exposed businesses as of Thursday, they are up $40.6 million this week and up $112.1 million year-to-date, S3 reported.

“AOBC’S earnings results may provide an impetus for more short selling in the sector as analysts’ expect a decrease in both revenues and earnings,” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, managing director predictive analytics at S3 Partners in a statement accompanying the data. “Surprisingly, even with these negative expectations, AOBC’s short interest has declined over the last month.

“While a change in gun regulations may hurt these companies’ revenues in the long run, gun and ammunition ‘panic buying’ has historically increased sales in the short term. Short sellers may decrease their near term short exposure in response to this recent surge in sales, but may begin shorting again once this buying spree is over.”

The wave of calls from concerned pension fund administrators and others appears to have had minimal impact on the gun makers’ stock prospects. Bloomberg reported Thursday that almost no funds were flowing to funds that invested in accordance with environmental, social and governance principles, such as screening out gun stocks. Just $82 million of the $22 billion that’s flowed to exchange-traded funds went to the 50 or so products that fit the description of ESG funds, Bloomberg found.

Dion Rabouin is a markets reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @DionRabouin.

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