Netflix surprised Wall Street yesterday by adding more subscribers than expected and beating consensus estimates for earnings. Analysts from just about every firm are weighing in on last night’s report, and even the bears have felt forced to increase their price targets for Netflix.
The bulls had their say here, so here’s what the bears had to say about the company after its first quarter earnings report.
If FBR with its $900 per share price target is Netflix’s biggest bull, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter and his team may be the company’s biggest bear. Even they chose to raise their price target, however, pushing it up slightly from $245 to $270 per share and maintaining their Underperform rating.
Pachter pointed out that Netflix’s revenue of $1.573 billion just barely missed his estimate of $1.58 billion and the consensus estimate of $1.574 billion. He also said the negative impact of currency headwinds offset the better than expected subscriber growth.
He called the company’s subscriber growth “impressive,” but he is still skeptical on whether it can “deliver the leverage many investors expect.” Perhaps his biggest argument against Netflix is the rapidly increasing cost of content. During the first quarter, the company’s streaming content liabilities increased by $626 million. In the last two quarters, the company has deferred recognition of more than $1 billion in content spend.
He doesn’t like how management uses “contribution profit” to describe how healthy Netflix’s business is because he thinks it “substantially understates real profitability.” He also dislikes their decision to keep amortizing less than they spend on content because he thinks the practice “substantially inflates” the company’s earnings.
The Wedbush analyst thinks the company’s high valuation is not warranted because he still expects its domestic subscriber growth to slow.
Barclays says get out of the way
Barclays analyst Paul Vogel and his team are also bearish on Netflix, mainly because sentiment is driving the company’s stock price. They noted that subscriber growth was the one metric that really mattered to Wall Street, and Netflix beat expectations. They said the company’s financial results were “largely in line to slightly worse.”
The Barclays team also said whenever sentiment is driving a stock in either direction, it’s best to get out of the way, although they increased their price target from $450 to $500 per share. They don’t see much room to revenue in the near term but add that it doesn’t really matter as long as Netflix keeps beating on subscriber growth.
Additionally, they point out that the strategy of spending more to increase growth has worked in the past for other companies. “In many cases, as long as they deliver above plan and can convince investors that long-term margin is just a matter of turning off the growth hose then the stock can work,” they wrote. They maintained their Equal Weight rating on Netflix because they believe it’s “difficult to justify chasing it up here” because they haven’t changed their views on cash flow or revenue.
SunTrust expects Netflix’s churn rate to rise
SunTrust analyst Robert Peck and his team also increased their price target for Netflix significantly, pushing it from $480 to $550 per share but maintained their Neutral rating on the stock. They don’t think the lower-than-expected churn rate is sustainable. The reasons are because content will slow down going into the third quarter, competition is increasing, and subscribers who ducked the price increase last year by being grandfathered in at the lower rate will face an increase, which could raise the churn rate.
He also mentioned the company’s high content costs and also its high customer acquisition costs. He said over the last seven quarters, the company’s domestic customer acquisition cost has risen from $40 to $51. Internationally, the cost has climbed for the last four consecutive quarters, rising from $37 to $48.
Meanwhile content obligations are on the rise as well, climbing 38% year over year to reach $9.3 billion, compared to the 31% growth rate of streaming revenue.
Other bears also raise their targets for Netflix
Analyst Brian Fitzgerald and his team at Jefferies also increased their price target, pushing from $400 up to $495 but reiterating their Hold rating on the company.
Macquarie analyst Tim Nollen also increased his price target for Netflix, raising it from $350 to $475 per share but maintaining his Neutral rating. His reduced earnings per share estimate for this year is now $2.03 from $328 previously. For next year, he also reduced his estimate, bringing it down slightly from $5.21 to $5.19 per share.
Credit Suisse analyst Stephen Ju and his team also bumped up their price target for the video streaming provider, raising it from $461 to $501 per share. They maintained their Neutral rating on Netflix as well, based on valuation.
As of this writing, shares of Netflix were up 18.53% to $563.57 per share.