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Bear of the Day: GoPro (GPRO)

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Founded in 2002 by a charismatic adventurer named Nick Woodman, GoPro (GPRO - Free Report) briefly became one of the market’s hottest IPOs, quadrupling in price in the four months after its June 2014 offering.

GoPro’s action cameras fit perfectly with the desires of millennials (and many older customers) who wanted to document the fun they were having and share it with their friends and social media followers.

Though GoPro’s flagship “Hero” product was a fairly non-traditional digital camera with limited device playback capability, a suite of accessories that allowed it to be mounted virtually anywhere – including on bicycles, surfboards, dogs(!) and pretty much anything else that moves – made it a favorite of the thrill-seeking crowd.

The ability to add a wide variety of special effects allowed users to easily create their own professional looking adventure films. Early on, Woodman envisioned GoPro as not simply a camera manufacturer, but also the creator and curator of digital entertainment. The promise of that idea was obvious – the company would reap initial revenues from hardware sales and then recurring sales as customers who already owned the device continued to pay for apps, software and services.

Companies like Apple (AAPL) have become the giants of modern industry on the same premise -a “sticky” ecosystem in which selling the initial hardware pieces also keeps customers coming back over and over for higher-margin services.

Unfortunately, the target audience is a fickle crowd and most of that potential never materialized. Stagnant revenues and an ill-timed investment in photographic drone technology (that performed poorly and resulted in mass-refunds and roughly $80 million in losses before being discontinued altogether) took GoPro shares from an all-time high of $87 in 2016 to recent lows below $5.

Part of the problem is a lack of barriers to entry in the digital photography industry. The cameras and related software on ordinary smartphones have continued to evolve, giving would-be adventure photographers a large number of options when it comes to creating and editing photographic content. Mounts and other accessories that are readily available for smartphones made the once-innovative GoPro technology seem ordinary - and the company never delivered on the promise of becoming a  media and content giant.

Social media sites like Instagram an Snapchat offer young users filters and editing tricks for free that allow them to create, edit and share their own content.

Despite a recent bump in GoPro shares because of optimism about recently announced new product lines, it looks unlikely that GoPro will ever live up to the early enthusiasm it enjoyed after going public.

Flat revenue and earnings estimates earn GoPro a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell). There’s not much to be gained from shorting a stock at $5/share, so GoPro isn’t necessarily a selling opportunity, but it’s also not a good place to allocate capital in a diversified portfolio.

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