Netflix is making some big changes, but its stock may need to 'take a pause'
By Emily Bary
A crackdown on password sharing comes with opportunity but also the potential for disruption -- and its benefits won't be clear to investors until summer at the earliest
A new year for Netflix Inc. comes with a new leadership plan and a renewed interest in cracking down on account sharing. Now the question is how those efforts will affect the stock.
After languishing last year, Netflix (NFLX) shares started 2023 in positive territory in the lead-up to the company's Thursday afternoon earnings report, and they were poised to build on those gains in Friday's session after Netflix showed better-than-expected subscriber trends for its fourth quarter and indicated it would start its clampdown on password sharers later in the first quarter.
The stock was up 6% in morning action Friday.
See more:Netflix stock leaps after subscriber success in final quarter with Reed Hastings as CEO
"Double-digit revenue growth could be achievable in [the second half of the year] and remains [Netflix's] long-term objective," Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall wrote after the release of the report. "Content performance is underpinning all aspects of financial improvement and helps investors sleep better."
But that doesn't necessarily mean Netflix's stock will roar back in the short run. Cahall expects it to "take a pause" in the first half of the year, since the company's first-quarter results could be negatively affected by the timing of hot content.
The company's net-addition numbers could start to show the benefits of the password-sharing crackdown starting with second-quarter results, Cahall noted, but those won't come out until the summer.
"So, from now until [second-quarter] results in July the stock may tread water," he wrote. He maintained an overweight rating and $400 target price on the shares.
See also: Netflix says its plan to 'broadly' end password sharing will juice revenue
Netflix admitted Thursday that while its plan to migrate password sharers to their own accounts promises opportunity, it could also bring disruption, since some customers may be "unhappy" and leave.
MoffettNathanson's Michael Nathanson wrote that such efforts could be "more of a challenge" given that angry customers could "churn off Netflix out of spite."
"While this risk is clearly acknowledged, there is an expectation that this move will help accelerate organic revenue growth over the year from the [first-quarter] 2023 expected base of +8%," he wrote. "Modeling how these actions flow through is difficult, but we have assumed that Netflix achieves an average of +5% core RPU [revenue-per-user] growth, which acts as a plug for reduced password sharing."
He maintained a market-perform rating on the shares while bumping his price target to $250 from $240.
"If we have an issue with the stock, it is that it has run too far and too fast given the fundamentals in our model, the risks in the outcome and the risks relative to other investment choices," Nathanson continued. His experience covering the name, he said, leads him to conclude that "Netflix's operations are more complicated and volatile than Excel spreadsheets would suggest."
Opinion: Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings showed Silicon Valley the proper leadership path
Needham's Laura Martin wrote that she still worries Netflix will have "elevated churn over the next two quarters owing to a price increase implemented in the most disruptive way possible."
The company's plans to make password sharers either get their own accounts or pay more to stay on family plans "forces paying subs OUT of inertia," she continued, as she maintained a hold rating on the shares.
Evercore ISI analyst Mark Mahaney, however, was feeling more upbeat, boosting his price target to $400 from $340 and keeping an outperform rating.
"What is so bullish about [Netflix] here is that the revenue & profit growth impact of [the password crackdown and the new advertising tier] is just beginning to roll through [Netflix's] fundamentals and should drive revenue growth acceleration and margin expansion throughout '23," Mahaney wrote.
He added that Netflix's fundamentals "are clearly and materially improving," while "the optionality around the ad-supported offering and password-sharing initiatives is potentially very dramatic."
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 21, 2023 11:00 ET (16:00 GMT)
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