Fitbit CEO James Park is hunkering down for rough times ahead. But ultimately the fitness tracker maker, weakened by slowing sales, may not see a healthy pulse rate again without some acquisition interest, maybe from a technology or sports apparel giant.
On Monday, Fitbit said that revenue in the all-important holiday quarter shrunk almost 20%, a big reversal from a nearly doubling of sales during the same period in 2015. In response, the company said it would lay off 6% of its workforce, providing a small piece of $200 million in cost cuts that Park wants to wring from the company’s $1.1 billion in annual spending.
Fitbit’s troubles are readily evident in its shares (FIT), which fell 17% in mid-day trading on Monday to under $6. Since its initial public offering at $20 in 2015, the company’s stock has shed more than 70%.
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Despite the problems, Park is looking ahead to better times. The first half of 2017 will be brutal—”a temporary slowdown and transition period,” he said—before a planned product expansion into the higher-end smartwatch category is expected to bring stabilization in the second half the year. The company expects just $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion in revenue this year—less than in 2016 and less than in 2015.
Cost cutting can’t solve all of Fitbit’s problems. The weak ending to 2016 and poor outlook for early 2017 are the result of market saturation for fitness bands, unappealing features, a lack of new products, greater competition from Apple, Garmin (GRMN) and a host of cheap Asian manufacturers, and growing economic weakness in China, depending on which analyst or market research firm is talking.
To restore growth, Park needs consumers to start spending more on gadgets, which isn’t entirely under his control. Park is focused on gaining more corporate clients, who could make volume purchases to give to their employees trying to get healthier in wellness programs. But ramping up corporate sales to significant volume seems to be slow going.
He also needs to bolster Fitbit’s product line up with more desirable and, perhaps, more capable devices that can do more, like run popular smartwatch apps.
He’s picked up some potentially useful technology on the cheap through acquisitions over the past year, including failing mobile wallet maker Coin, failing smartwatch maker Pebble, and struggling European smartwatch maker Vector. But cobbling those disparate, and not exactly market-winning technologies into a new, super Fitbit device will be challenging.
Apple (AAPL) and Google’s Android Wear ecosystems for smartwatches have far more support by developers and close links to the two leading smartphone operating systems. Outsiders trying to make their own software, such as Samsung’s Tizen-based watches, have found it tricky to match the smartphone-dependent functionality of the big two. Manufacturing problems have also tripped up Fitbit, which announced a $163 million in write-offs because of excess inventory, high warranty repairs and other miscues .
For more on Fitbit’s acquisition of Pebble, watch:
The answer to Fitbit’s conundrum may comes from outside the company. Previously, Fitbit has been the subject of takeover rumors, including supposed interest by sneaker giants Nike (NKE) and Under Armour (UAA). Tech giants Samsung and Google (GOOGL) are also mentioned by analysts as potential buyers..
At Fitbit’s near-distressed valuation today, there’s also the possibility that private equity or other investors would swoop in. However, a supposed offer by a firm called ABM Capital last year disappeared after Fitbit said it had never been contacted.
According to one analyst, at $6 a share, Fitbit’s market capitalization of $1.3 billion is just over twice the estimated amount of cash it likely ended the year with, making the company relatively cheap in an acquisition. At this stage, it would say a lot about Fitbit’s perceived worth—or lack thereof—if takeover talks don’t heat up soon.