The stock price fell 4.6% to $431.09 even though the Q2 earnings reported last night were largely in line with analyst expectations, subscriptions were up impressively, and management forecasts were upbeat. What gives?
The simplest explanation is that Netflix always is susceptible to downturns because its shares are so expensive, reflecting investor optimism about its prospects. They trade for about 128 times the company’s earnings — a stark contrast to more stable media giants such as Fox, Comcast, Time Warner and CBS whose stock prices equal about 20 times earnings.
And Netflix bears found some reasons to be skittish. The company will have to boost spending to secure the content it will need to serve new markets including Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg — and that could put pressure on earnings “as soon as next year,” says Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter. He’s concerned about the decline in DVD-by-mail rental subscribers; they account for “half of all operating profit for the company.” The analyst also says that Amazon’s recent streaming deal with HBO suggests that “a stand-alone subscription plan is coming” that would make the e-retailer a more potent video competitor.
Meanwhile, Sterne Agee’s Arvind Bhatia is skeptical about Netflix’s growth potential. “The debate on the stock really boils down to, what is the company’s true addressable market worldwide?” he says. Netflix CFO David Wells said yesterday that he expects to see as many as 800M broadband homes worldwide during the next several years including 200M in China and 90M in the U.S. The analyst says that’s ambitious and already reflected in the stock price.
But even analysts who were encouraged by what they heard yesterday are sharply divided. Morgan Stanley’s Benjamin Swinburne likes the fact that Netflix’s recent price hike “did not appear to have a meaningful impact on customer adds in the U.S.” and raised his price target 4% to $520. Stifel’s Benjamin Mogil raised his target price by 5.3% to $500 today due to “stronger contribution expectations from all segments.” Others are less enthusiastic, but still upbeat. Nomura Research’s Anthony DiClemente raised his target 4.9% to $425. MoffettNathanson Research’s Michael Nathanson is up 6.7% to $400 advising investors to look for a price dip to buy “after the impact of launching new international territories is better understood.”