Being a growth stock is great, provided you continue putting up the numbers that investors are looking for quarter after quarter. But miss those estimates to the downside and those same investors will happily send your stock to the glue factory.
Exhibit A is Netflix, which saw its share price crater (NFLX) on Monday after the company reported weaker-than-expected subscriber numbers. The stock plummeted by more than 15% at one point in after-hours trading.
The streaming-video kingpin has had a few prominent skeptics of late, but for the most part analysts and investors have been happy to sing its praises as it has added new shows—including the exclusive new Star Trek show from CBS—and expands into more than a hundred new countries. And its share price has benefited from all of that glory, hitting a peak of $130 last year.
A huge chunk of that goodwill was erased on Monday, however, when Netflix announced after the market closed that its subscriber growth was well below forecasts.
Instead of adding 2.5 million users in the latest quarter, the service said it added just 1.68 million subscribers. That’s 30% below estimates, and close to 50% less than the number it added in the same quarter of last year. That wiped more than $6.5 billion from Netflix’s market value.
The company tried to put a brave face on the news, talking about its growth in a number of the foreign markets it has expanded into, and claiming that the U.S. market also isn’t saturated. But the reality is that Netflix only added 160,000 subscribers in the United States, compared with the company’s previous estimates that it would add as many as 500,000.
The culprit behind much of the miss appears to be the recent “un-grandfathering” of existing Netflix subscribers when it comes to the price they pay per month for the service.
The company recently announced that users who signed up at the old rates would have to pay more when renewing, and it seems that many have decided to cancel instead. Netflix blamed media hype around the price increases for some of the response, but the reality is that the company hiked its prices and some users appear to be voting against that decision.
“We think some members perceived the news as an impending new price increase rather than the completion of two years of grandfathering,” the company said in a statement, adding that the churn “is modest and conforms to our expectations.”
Some of that churn, as Netflix likes to call it, could also be driven by an expanding competitive landscape, where Amazon now has its own streaming video service and other providers such as HBO and Hulu have also been boosting their offerings.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings denied on the company’s conference call that competition contributed to the subscriber miss, however. Users simply “don’t like prices going up,” the Netflix co-founder said, showing a masterful command of the obvious.
In any case, that increasing competition also puts pressure on the company to spend even more money developing new programs and acquiring new content. Already, Netflix is expected to spend more than $6 billion this year on 10 feature films, 30 children’s shows and 12 documentaries.
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The resulting cash drain could make it even harder for the company to satisfy its investors. Analysts at Wedbush Securities said recently that Netflix will be “bleeding cash for the foreseeable future.” And if its subscriber growth is also slowing, that’s a bad combination.