Netflix’s stock is beginning 2019 on a hot streak, rising more than 24% in January to date. Shares gained another 1.5% today to close at $324.66 and rose nearly another 2% in after-hours trading.
A big boost to investor sentiment came late this afternoon when UBS analyst Eric Sheridan upgraded the stock to “buy” from “neutral” and raised his 12-month price target to $410 from $400.
Like many on Wall Street, Sheridan is looking for healthy numbers on January 17, when the company reports fourth-quarter results, reflecting a holiday-quarter uptick in subscribers and free cash flow. The streaming giant has had one of its most successful stretches with its original content. Bird Box became the most successful original film in its history and a steady diet of series like Narcos: Mexico and original movies like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Roma have enticed new subscribers.
The recent upward movement for the stock price follows a downbeat latter half of 2018. A sub-par second-quarter report last summer gave way to a slide for all major tech shares and a steady drumbeat of news from Disney and WarnerMedia about their plans to compete with Netflix with their own streaming services, which unnerved some investors. Sheridan believes that reaction is in the rear-view mirror. While skeptics continue to question Netflix’s heavy-spending strategy, financed by billions of debt, Sheridan and other bulls say the “moat” around the company is only getting bigger. “We see the moat around Netflix’s global positioning widening and its long-term secular winner status remaining intact.”
Sheridan’s report calls for near- to medium-term subscriber growth ahead of management forecasts.
In the current quarter, Sheridan wrote, Netflix originals are “robust” and will have easier comparisons with the same quarter of 2018.
Even when Disney and WarnerMedia launch their own SVOD services by the end of this year, Sheridan says the long view taken by Netflix management will prevail.
While Disney remains a “‘wildcard’ … we are skeptical that Disney will take any share from Netflix in the foreseeable future given its relatively narrow focus on kids and a few brands/franchises,” the analyst wrote. “We also don’t think that there is a fixed market for SVOD services and users/households will likely have multiple subscriptions at the same time.”