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Better Buy: GoPro vs. Alphabet

By Steve Symington - Mar 31, 2016 at 6:47AM

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Which would you rather buy? A niche turnaround play or an industry juggernaut?

For any investor with money to put to work in the stock market, often the hardest part is deciding between seemingly disparate portfolio candidates with which you want to achieve the same goal: That is, to beat the broader market. Further complicating that goal is the fact you can achieve it in a variety of ways, especially by owning shares of businesses operating in very different places in their respective long-term stories. 

Take GoPro (GPRO -1.49%) and Google parent Alphabet (GOOG 5.20%)(GOOGL 5.11%), for example. In the former, investors are presented with a beaten-down business with a market capitalization of less than $2 billion as of this writing, namely as it endures a lull in demand from its core capture device market. In the latter, investors have an Internet search and advertising juggernaut whose shares currently trade near all-time highs, and which boasts a market cap of nearly $520 billion.

But while this might sound like a one-sided battle, let's not jump to conclusions just yet. Rather, depending on your specific investing temperament and tolerance for risk, GoPro and Alphabet can serve two very different purposes. Let's dig deeper to figure out which is the better buy.

GoPro: A turnaround in the making
As it stands, shares of GoPro are down more than 70% over the past year following a series of missteps for the business, including the failed launch of its tiny HERO4 Session camera last July, under-funding of marketing initiatives, and a woeful lack of attention to software solutions that should make it easier for customers to offload, access, and edit captured content. 

GoPro's entire camera lineup now consists of three devices. Image source: GoPro.

Most recently, these missteps culminated in a 31.1% year-over-year decline in revenue during GoPro's crucial holiday season, which resulted in a net loss of nearly $34.5 million, or $0.25 per share.

That all sounds scary -- and rightly so. But these fears arguably overwhelm the very real possibility that GoPro's stock has bottomed, especially as the company works hard to right its past wrongs.

After last quarter's painful performance, for example, GoPro took a huge step to streamline its capture device offerings to only its three highest-end devices, including the HERO4 Black, HERO4 Silver, and HERO4 Session. This should, in theory, reduce sales cannibalization from similar devices, while at the same time maintaining healthy gross margin given the higher price points as compared to lower-end models GoPro discontinued. 

Meanwhile, GoPro CEO Nick Woodman insisted the company recognizes the need to develop more effective software solutions for users, and subsequently acquired leading mobile editing apps Splice and Replay to speed up the process for GoPro and Smartphone users. 

Finally, GoPro has promised to launch its new Karma Quadcopter in the first half of this year, paving the way for it to take share in fast-growing, multi-billion-dollar market. And the company is largely expected to implement a much-needed refresh of its camera lineup in time for the holidays later this year. In the end, the confluence of these events could easily propel GoPro stock higher from here.

Alphabet: When winners keep on winning
Alphabet, for its part, is undoubtedly on much more solid financial footing than GoPro. Last quarter, Alphabet's revenue climbed an amazing 17.8% year over year, to $21.33 billion, and would have risen 24% if it weren't for the negative effects of foreign currency exchange.  For that, Alphabet can thank the relative outperformance of its primary Google segment, which includes Search, Android, Maps, Chrome, YouTube, Google Play, and Gmail -- all of which individually catered to more than one billion users last quarter. And collectively, advertising revenue from these services rose 17% year over year, to $19.08 billion, or more than 90% of Alphabet's total revenue during the quarter. Meanwhile, revenue from non-advertising sources at Google rose 24%, to $2.1 billion, thanks to strong growth from the Google Play store, Google Coud, and Apps. That resulted in 22.3% growth in operating income, to $5.38 billion, and 5.3% growth in net income, to $4.92 billion, or $7.06 per share.

Put another way: Alphabet's net income last quarter alone was more than twice GoPro's entire market capitalization. 

And arguably most enticing, this helps to bankroll Google's compelling "Other Bets" segment. Other Bets is comprised of an aggregation of businesses ranging from Fiber (high speed Internet) to Verily (focused on longevity), to Nest (connected home products), Calico (life sciences), self-driving cars, and the "X" moonshot initiatives that boast enormous long-term potential. Last year, revenue from these initiatives climbed 37% year over year, to $448 million. But given their early stage statuses, together they also generated a huge operating loss of nearly $3.6 billion in 2015.

However, Alphabet's core Google business more than makes up for those losses in the near term, and investors should keep in mind they could potentially turn into massively profitable businesses in their own right down the road.

The verdict
If I had to choose just one stock for my own portfolio, I would buy Alphabet for both the solid financial footing Google provides, and the enormous potential it enjoys from the "Other Bets" category. The stability, superior growth, and global market leadership are too great to ignore, and for me this becomes more a core stock around which investors can build a portfolio. It's also worth noting Alphabet technically appears to be the "cheaper" stock looking even at traditional metrics, as it trades around 32 times trailing 12-month earnings and less than 19 times next year's estimates.

By comparison -- and despite its decline -- GoPro trades around 49 times trailing 12-month earnings, and the action camera specialist is expected to turn in a loss for the coming year. However, I also wouldn't be the least bit surprised if GoPro were able to quickly grow into its valuation from a price to earnings standpoint should the business show the slightest signs of improvement over the next few quarters. If that happens, I admit GoPro's potential returns could easily dwarf those of Google as it builds its business from a much smaller base. So in the end, while Google still gets my vote as the "better buy" today, GoPro might well be worth opening a small speculative position.

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Stocks Mentioned

Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,359.50 (5.11%) $114.66
Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,370.76 (5.20%) $117.07
GoPro, Inc. Stock Quote
GoPro, Inc.
$5.97 (-1.49%) $0.09

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