The stock price is up about 23% in mid-afternoon trading to roughly $117, a level it hasn’t seen since October — although still far below the $300 peak from July, when Netflix decoupled its DVD rental and streaming video businesses. Just about everybody was taken aback by the strong subscription numbers in the 4Q report the company issued last night. The biggest surprise was the 220,000 increase in U.S. streaming customers, bringing the total to 21.7M. Credit Suisse analyst John Blackledge increased his price target to $125 from $100, saying that Netflix’s “competitive positioning is strong” and could defy skeptics this year by continuing to attract and keep viewers. Eric Wold of B. Riley & Co also says the results reinforce his view that “Netflix maintains a superior relative content/cost position with consumers.” Susquehanna Financial Group’s Vasily Karasyov raised his target price to $95 from $60. He now projects that the company will end the year losing 9 cents a share as opposed to his previous forecast of a 22 cent loss. But Wedbush & Co’s Michael Pachter — who warned investors early this week to expect bad news in the year-end report — says he’s unfazed, keeping his price target at $45. He says Netflix is too cavalier about the potential backlash among consumers at the end of February when it will lose content from Starz — including the Disney films it provides in the premium cable window. Netflix says they just account of 2% of its domestic viewing. Yet Pachter says that “Netflix has to make a choice: either it will have high subscriber growth due to high-cost, high-quality content, meaning profits will be small or nil; or it will have lower subscriber growth due to low-cost, low-quality content, meaning it will make money but not be a growth story. In our view, the high-growth, high-profit story is not going to happen.”
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