Taser shares survive less-than-lethal market plunge

Few stocks enjoyed the drubbing the markets gave them on Tuesday.

However, the ultimate product demonstration video may have helped buoy one stock with the slimmest of Philadelphia connections.

While the Dow Jones industrial average lost 225.06 points in a major sell-off, Taser International Inc. closed at $4.76, down only 8 cents. The Scottsdale, Ariz., maker of less-than-lethal weapons has no operations in the Philadelphia area.

But thanks to the idiocy of a teenage baseball fan, everyone knows that a Philadelphia police officer Tasered someone in centerfield during Monday night’s Phillies-Cardinals game.

Taser, like Google, is well-known enough to have become a verb. Its namesake product is often used for cheap laughs in movies and sitcoms. Unfortunately, the joke is once again on Philadelphia and its image.

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. was monitoring chatter and hits on various Web sites on Tuesday about the incident. But Meryl Levitz, president of the organization behind the ad campaigns aimed at drawing tourists to the region, said her office didn’t field many calls about it.

“Hopefully, it will pass by quickly,” she said.

Still, Taser has to be pleased that its stun gun worked as advertised. CEO Rick Smith told analysts on an April 23 conference call that its domestic law-enforcement business “continued to show up pretty strong” in the first quarter.

Fifty-four percent of Taser’s $23.8 million in first-quarter sales emanated from U.S. law enforcement agencies. Sales to police departments, prisons and others in that niche were up 30 percent over the same quarter of 2009.

For that, Taser can thank, in part, the federal economic stimulus spending. That’s one reason why the Philadelphia Police Department could afford to order 1,000 Taser X26 Electronic Control Devices during the fourth quarter of 2009.

The X26 is Taser’s most popular product, accounting for 52 percent of its 2009 sales, or $54 million.

And if I were you, I’d expect to see more viral video of Tasering. According to Taser’s annual report, more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies in over 50 countries have bought Tasers for testing or deployment. Rangers in 145 National Park Service locations carry X26s.

Also like Google, Taser has its competition in the less-than-lethal weapons market. For example, Stinger Systems Inc. of Tampa, Fla., has its own stun gun. Armor Holdings Inc. and PepperBall Technologies Inc. make pepper sprays and so-called impact weapons, which shoot flexible beanbags.

And of course, the Phillie Phanatic packs a mean less-than-lethal hot dog launcher.