For all of its flash and prestige as a brand, Netflix as a business has had its ups and downs in recent quarters, with turnover in the C-suite and increasing debt obligations raising some concerns. After peaking last June at $423.21, its stock ended 2018 well below that mark, just shy of $300.
When the company reports its fourth-quarter results after the closing bell today, however, Wall Street is expected to smile on the numbers. Netflix’s stock price is flat today, but has run up 34% in 2018 to date as investors recognize its strong run of subscriber-luring shows, including the company’s top-performing film to date, Bird Box. Investor enthusiasm is such that even the largest subscription price increase in the company’s history, announced Tuesday, sent shares higher.
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“The simple point here is that this price increase – if successfully implemented – can generate a material boost to NFLX’s profitability,” wrote RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney, who looks for Netflix to book $2.6 billion in operating profit in fiscal 2019.
In its internal guidance, Netflix is forecasting total revenue in the quarter of $4.2 billion and diluted earnings per share of 23 cents, a penny below the consensus estimate of analysts. The most closely tracked metric, though, is paid subscriptions. Netflix is expecting to add 7.6 million new paid subscribers in the period, reaching 138 million worldwide. Growth is slowing a bit in the U.S., where Netflix looks to add 1.5 million subscribers to hit 58.5 million.
Analysts have boosted their views on the stock lately in anticipation of the quarterly numbers. Michael Morris of Guggenheim raised his 12-month price target to $400 from $370, reiterating his “buy” rating. He expects by the end of 2023 Netflix will have 290.3 million paid subscribers, with 75 million of them in the U.S.
Anyone judging Netflix by its U.S. performance, Morris wrote in a note to clients, is missing the point. “Internationally, we continue to see more potential upside than downside to our long-term estimates given the growing mix of unique, attractive content, compelling price and increasing consumer connectivity,” he wrote.
John Blackledge of Cowen & Co. also raised his price target, to $445 from $430, prompted by the price hike and also the quarterly outlook. “Given Original content hours growth,” he wrote in a research note, “we view price hikes as a positive given they fund ongoing virtuous cycle of content & sub growth.”
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