Why Netflix’s Stock Was Downgraded by an Influential Wall Street Analyst
Netflix blew away Wall Street’s expectations a few weeks ago when it reported strong subscriber and revenue growth in the fourth quarter. The strong financial performance, including adding a record 8.3 million new subscribers, sent the streaming company’s stock skyward. On Tuesday, the stock touched an all-time high of $325.79, up 70% just this year (after gaining 55% last year).
The stock’s explosion even has some of the company’s strongest supporters now wondering if the price has moved too quickly. On Wednesday, influential analyst Scott Devitt of Stifel Nicolaus released a short research note downgrading Netflix stock to “hold” from “buy.” Devitt’s target price of $325 implies no further gains for investors this year.
“We are attracted to Netflix’s business and competitive position, but believe share price may have sprinted ahead of fundamentals in the short-term,” the analyst wrote.
At $325, Netflix shares are trading at almost 119 times the $2.74 per share of profit that Devitt expects the company will bring in this year. That compares with a forward price-to-earnings ratio of just 17 times for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
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Netflix (NFLX) shares were down 1% to $321.72 in morning trading on Wednesday, amid a weak overall market in the wake of the resignation of Trump advisor Gary Cohn.
Still, Devitt thinks that Netflix’s business will continue to grow strongly. The company could add 26 million new subscribers this year, Devitt forecast, with revenue increasing 38% to $16 billion. The key is that Netflix is catching on faster than expected outside of the United States, he explained. “In our view, strong traction with international subscribers as shown by the 4Q result / 1Q guide demonstrated a new trajectory (higher) for Netflix’s international ambitions,” Devitt wrote.
Netflix has been expanding overseas and rapidly increasing its spending on original content, even as its approaches a saturation point with U.S. subscribership. This year, the company notched its first ever Academy Award nominations for a feature film, gathering four for Mudbound, though it didn’t end up winning any at the Oscars on Sunday.
Original content seems to be behind the latest subscriber surge. Two of Netflix’s most popular original shows—the science fiction series Stranger Things and the historical drama The Crown—premiered new seasons of programming in the fourth quarter.