Samantha Lee/Business Insider
- Netflix is a battleground stock. The streaming giant’s meteoric rise has long elicited a passionate discussion across the investment community from both sides of the bull-bear coin.
- The company has also reached an inflection point. Netflix forecasts that its much-discussed burn rate will likely peak this year, and then improve "each year thereafter."
- To distill the latest arguments for and against investing in Netflix, Markets Insider asked the Wall Street analysts carrying the stock’s highest and lowest price targets the same questions.
- We found what they managed to agree on — and what they believe the other side is missing.
- Watch Netflix trade live.
Netflix pushes investors to extremes.
Now, the company is approaching an inflection point. The Reed Hastings-led platform told shareholders in January it expects negative free cash flow to effectively peak this year, and then "improve each year thereafter," assuming they don’t see any material transactions.
Netflix shares fell after the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report as revenue fell short of Wall Street’s expectations. Shares are trading about 17% below the June record high of $423.21, though they’ve staged a meaningful comeback from the depths of the market’s sell-off in December.
To be sure, Wall Street analysts are still pretty bullish on the name, with the fourth-quarter results causing a number of analysts to raise their price targets. Of those surveyed by Bloomberg, 31 have a "buy" rating, 10 recommend "hold," and four say "sell."
In separate interviews this week, Markets Insider posed the same questions to analysts on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The biggest Netflix bull on Wall Street, according to analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, is Jeffrey Wlodarczak, the founder of Pivotal Research Group and an entertainment and interactive subscription services analyst at the firm. He has a $500 price target on the stock. Meanwhile, Neil Macker, an analyst at Morningstar, carries a $135 price target, and is Wall Street’s biggest bear on the streaming giant.
These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Boil your investment thesis down to one sentence.
Wlodarczak (Bull): "Netflix offers consumers an increasingly compelling entertainment experience, on any device, without commercials, at a relatively low cost, and you look at the global market for their services, and they’re relatively under-penetrated."
Macker (Bear): "We don’t believe that Netflix’s current share price considers the potential changes to consumer behavior that a combination of higher prices and increased competition could create to the detriment of Netflix’s business."
We know the streaming service space has become crowded. Netflix said in its last shareholder letter that its focus "is not on Disney+, Amazon or others, but on how we can improve our experience for our members." Now, how concerned are you about Apple’s push into streaming?
Joan Cros Garcia/Corbis via Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
Wlodarczak (Bull): "I’m not very concerned. One of the things you’ve seen with the big tech companies which is other than Amazon, which has done a phenomenal job moving into other business lines, most of these companies’ attempts to move out of their core business have been a disaster.
You remember Google+ and their attempt to go after Facebook. Apple has literally been thinking about doing TV and getting into TV for at least 20 years. They just never have, and I think they’re sort of a day late and a dollar short.
That being said, you can always step back and say, a company with that much cash, they can get into anything. They could over-build the US with fiber, if they wanted to do. The reality is, I think it’s pretty unlikely."
Macker (Bear): "Apple, specifically, could be a very strong competitor. However, we haven’t seen a sustained push from the company into the space."
He added that there are "a lot of stories about Tim Cook and other executives sort of meddling within content creation; we think one of the other problems is that Apple may not want more adult or violent or sexually charged content to fall under the Apple banner.
I think Apple could be a strong competitor, but right now, absent any changes in their motivation and their willingness to spend, we don’t see this as a near-term competitive threat."
He continued: "Nowadays, there are just more and more choices of what we can put on that screen, whether it’s on the TV, at a movie theater, on our cell phone, on our tablet, or on our computer. Netflix and everybody else in the media space and video game space, and Facebook, YouTube, all these guys, are all competing for that screen time."
Netflix said in the fourth-quarter its negative free cash flow rose to $1.3 billion and that for the year it saw a $3 billion cash burn. How concerned are you about the company’s burn rate?
Wlodarczak (Bull): "The company is growing like a weed. The company is purposely investing in more and more content, more and more localized content. If Netflix wanted to, I think tomorrow they could generate massive amounts of free cash flow.
Just slow the growth in spending on content. So you’ve got the launch of new markets, you’ve got a deliberate strategy to invest in more and more content. And until their subscriber growth appreciably slows, the strategy is working."
Macker (Bear): "I think that’s a concern generally with the company. They expect to burn another $3 billion this year. While the company is talking about an inflection in 2020, we’ve heard similar stories in the past about changes in behavior; one of the keys to Netflix’s success has been the ability to add new content and keep that content machine going.
As the company moves more and more to second- and first-party content, it’s going to continue to need to spend on that, and their ability to get leverage on that is one of the things that we think a lot of bulls on the name are overestimating."
- Trump’s trade war is hammering Chinese exports and it’s driving a global selloff
- The top 20 cities around the world where wealthy people live, invest their money, and enjoy top hotels and restaurants
- We asked 6 chief equity strategists to break down the hottest trends in the stock market right now — and where you should be putting your money