A Year After Newtown, Cerberus Capital Could Sell Freedom Group Gun Business Soon

 @natrudy
on December 09 2013 8:06 AM
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    Twenty-seven wooden angel figures are seen placed in a wooded area beside a road near the Sandy Hook Elementary School for the victims of a school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 16, 2012. Reuters
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    Street artist Mark Panzarino, 41, prepares a memorial with the names of the Sandy Hook shooting victims during the six-month anniversary of the massacre, at Union Square in New York. Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
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Private equity player Cerberus Capital Management LP could soon sell some of its ownership stake in the gun manufacturer Freedom Group, Inc., almost a year after the Dec. 14, 2012, Newtown shootings, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The Freedom Group, Inc. sells the Bushmaster rifle used in the Newtown shootings and is one of the largest gun makers in the U.S. It earned $1 billion in net sales for the nine months ended Sept. 29, up from $677 million a year earlier.  

Cerberus is close to securing a minority investor and lender for Freedom Group, but it hasn’t yet struck a deal, according to a person familiar with the situation. Other private equity firms and gun companies like Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. (NASDAQ:SWHC) have shown interest in the sale. Cerberus values the business at about $1.2 billion.

Cerberus CEO Stephen Feinberg previously considered bidding for Freedom Group himself, along with other investors, but he has since spiked that proposal. Some Wall Street banks have been unwilling to finance a bid for those interested in buying the Freedom Group, though well-known investment bank Lazard Freres & Co. LLC is working on the sale.

Newtown activists and victims previously told International Business Times they’d soon step up protests against Cerberus for its delays in selling Freedom Group, a move Cerberus announced in December 2012, shortly after the shootings.  

Criticizing Cerberus’ inaction, religious activists and family members of Newtown victims plan to protest outside Cerberus’ New York offices on Monday morning, organizer Jennifer Fiore told IBTimes. The group will hold a vigil outside Cerberus’ Manhattan offices.

“Cerberus has maintained its highly profitable relationship with the [Freedom Group] gun manufacturer,” reads a recent news release from activists. “People of faith are outraged that Cerberus would continue to profit on the sale of guns that kill kids and innocent civilians.”

Activists also sent a letter to Cerberus last Monday, requesting a meeting with the private equity firm to discuss progress on the divestment.

“We are seeking a meeting or tangible evidence of Cerberus’ divestment from Freedom Group no later than December 12, 2013,” read the Dec. 2 letter, which was also signed by New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.

“The firearms industry’s behavior regarding safety … has been grossly irresponsible,” the letter said. “Reform is necessary, and until that time financial interests in gun and ammunition manufacturers like Freedom Group are blood money.”

Other private equity firms have felt the sting of bad publicity related to their portfolio companies in recent years and have slowly made changes to their diligence and reporting requirements.

Pension fund investors in Cerberus, including ones in California and New York, may be among those most insistent on selling its stake quickly, reported the New York Times.

Cerberus Capital declined to comment on the sale to IBTimes in November. The publicity scare doesn’t seem to have hurt the firm’s fundraising: It raised $2.6 billion for a recent fund, its first since a private equity buyout boom in the 2000s.

Cerberus has more than $20 billion in assets under management and invests in real estate, distressed assets and commercial lending. It is known for its investment in the automobile industry.

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