Analysts are updating their views on Netflix’s outlook after the streaming giant reported better-than-expected third-quarter subscriber growth and forecasting stronger fourth-quarter momentum late Tuesday. However, following a recent stock bounce due to optimism that subscriber momentum was improving, thanks in part to Squid Game, investors appeared to change course and be content to play the waiting game.
After all, Netflix shares fell 1.2 percent in early Wednesday trading, closing at $631.11 shortly after 10 a.m. ET.
While many on Wall Street were pleased with what they saw and heard in the earnings update, and several analysts raised their stock price targets, the stock had recently surged to an all-time high as investor sentiment improved and the global success of South Korean series Squid Game drew positive headlines and talk of a second season after challenges earlier in the year. With that momentum in mind, the most recent set of results appeared to confirm, but not fundamentally change, analysts’ and investors’ basic assessments of the streamer’s outlook.
Evercore ISI analyst Mark Mahaney also raised one potential concern that could influence the stock’s performance. “We believe the market may be disappointed that the fourth-quarter net adds guidance was not higher than the Street,” Mahaney wrote.
Netflix added 4.4 million new subscribers in the third quarter, exceeding its own target of 3.5 million, bringing the total to 214 million. It predicted that it would add 8.5 million users in the current fourth quarter, in line with its growth during the same period in 2020 and the Wall Street consensus, but down slightly from nearly 8.8 million in the previous quarter.
Mahaney maintained his “outperform” rating while increasing his 2021 subscriber growth forecast by 2 million to 18 million. As a result, he raised his price target for the stock by $15 to $710. “This was a solid report card against very elevated expectations, and we came away incrementally more optimistic about the strength of the content slate for the fourth quarter and into 2022,” the analyst wrote in his report, “Green Light!”
Morris, who rates Netflix as a “buy,” also increased his price target, this time by $35 to $720. He noted that management’s fourth-quarter subscriber growth guidance fell short of his 9.0 million estimate, but emphasized that “total second-half implied net adds of 12.9 million (are) ahead of our prior 12.5 million” due to the third-quarter upside surprise.
Morris also emphasized a robust pipeline of series and films. “Most importantly, the reignited post-COVID content production cycle is filling the release slate, yielding direct member trend results,” Morris contended. “We continue to see consistent progress on long-term growth initiatives, primarily industry-leading global content sourcing and streaming delivery experience, as well as new opportunities (mobile plans, gaming, and consumer products).”
Pivotal Research Group analyst Jeff Wlodarczak, who rates the stock as a “buy,” raised his price target by $50 to $750. In an investor note, he wrote, “The release of significant new content in the second half drove a nice acceleration in third-quarter subscriber results ahead of expectation.”
Cowen analyst John Blackledge told investors that the latest results have “slightly raised (his) long-term forecast” for Netflix, but he has raised his stock price target much more significantly – from $650 to $750, while maintaining his “outperform” rating. He, like others, emphasized this quarter’s “extremely strong film and episodic content slate.”
According to BMO Capital Markets analyst Daniel Salmon, the company’s fourth-quarter subscriber forecast was “below our prior 9.033 million,” which he has now reduced to 8.5 million. He also updated his growth projections for the coming years, a nod to the Asia-Pacific region being the largest contributor to Netflix’s third-quarter subscriber growth. “Net subscriber additions decline… with stronger growth in Asia-Pacific more than offsetting slower growth in more mature markets such as the United States/Canada and Latin America,” Salmon explained.
In the face of increased streaming competition, PP Foresight analyst Paolo Pescatore emphasized the importance of maintaining a steady flow of appealing fare. “It feels like the company is returning back to its normal cycle following the streaming pandemic party,” he said. “Netflix remains a robust business and will continue to invest heavily in original content which remains paramount. … Netflix remains successful due to unique storytelling that resonates with audiences around the world.”