One of the hottest initial public offerings is GoPro (NASDAQ: GPRO ) , the maker of high-definition mini cameras favored by extreme sports enthusiasts. It priced its offering at $24 a share, the top end of the range that was anticipated, which values the company at $3 billion. While there's some sense to the interest shown in the offering -- the company is actually already profitable, for example -- there are a lot of warning flags that should cause investors to pause before pushing that "buy" button.
GoPro has recorded several real achievements. Revenues have been soaring, more than doubling in 2012 and surging 87% last year, hitting nearly $1 billion, while profits also rose 87% in 2013 following a 31% jump the year before. And despite the proliferation of smartphones whose cameras have gotten appreciably better over time, no real competition has emerged to challenge its preeminent position.
Yet that's all starting to change. First quarter revenues fell 7.5% and profits plunged 61% as its selling, general, and administrative costs jumped 20%. Although it explains that last year's quarterly results were affected by delays it experienced in the fourth quarter of 2012, which ended up pushing sales forward one quarter so that the year ago period didn't reflect the company's typical seasonality, it serves to highlight another risk associated with the camera maker.
Virtually all of GoPro's revenues are derived from selling its hardware. It does operate the GoPro Network, the programming hosted on channels like YouTube and Facebook where users can use its proprietary GoPro Studio software to easily create, manipulate, and upload content from their cameras. And though it intends to try and make money from that option, being a software company is different from being a hardware maker and it might not run as smoothly as planned.
Essentially, GoPro is a one trick pony. It performs that one trick really well, but that single note can become tiresome after awhile.
It's also wholly dependent on system-on-chip manufacturer Ambarella (NASDAQ: AMBA ) for its supply of chips that power its cameras, and though that wasn't the cause of the shipment delays it experienced, it highlights the risks inherent in having just one supplier. A problem at Ambarella will cripple the camera company.
Further, that seasonality it talked of means it counts heavily on Christmas sales. Additional supply disruptions, and weak economic grow -- such as the major crash witnessed in GDP signaling 2014 likely won't be a banner year for growth -- could cause sales to crack.
It may be a leader in wearable technology, but it won't be alone for long. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) announced on Tuesday that it's going to be offering the Livestream app at its MyGlass store for use with Google Glass, the wearable camera technology that went on sale earlier this year, allowing users to broadcast live. While the Glass technology, at around $1,500, is still pricey in comparison to the few hundred dollars it costs for a GoPro Hero unit, expect costs to drop, particularly as more people begin using it due to greater functionality. Email, texts, and maps are just some of Google Glass's features. Apple is similarly exploring wearable technology that could quickly challenge GoPro.
My Foolish colleague Travis Hoium sees GoPro's entrepreneurial founder Nick Woodman as an asset, and currently he is, but being so dependent on a single individual also brings with it its own set of problems should he leave, or if his board develops a vision different from his.
In short, GoPro has been an awesome camera maker and its IPO shows it's striking while its hot and still at the top of its game. But the landscape is changing, and quickly. GoPro can't count on the same factors that pushed it to its current heights being there in the future. The IPO is off to the races at the start, up 30% in midday trading on its first day live, but investors just might want to take a snapshot of it to remember what its halcyon days were like before the market viewed it with a cracked lens.
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