When it was clear to a handful of us a couple of springs ago that the company was about to implode, investors ran NFLX past $300. Now, with the dust pretty much settled, you'll be hard-pressed to find anybody willing to go anywhere beyond cautiously bullish. Such is the life of a now-broken momentum stock.
Just another reason why it's a strange time to be a long-term investor. Very real, but unsustainable momentum rules stocks such as NFLX. Analysis of forward-looking prospects rarely enters into the equation.
Last year, before Netflix's errant price increase and ill-advised streaming/DVD split, a chorus of bears, led by Janney Montgomery's Tony Wible and Wedbush Securities' Michael Pachter, warned about Netflix's cost structure. These guys brought the goods from the analyst community while practically everybody else on Wall Street keep raising price targets and earnings estimates.I added consistent quantitative, but mostly qualitative support over at Seeking Alpha. We drove home several components of the NFLX bear case, but few wanted to listen. Netflix's exponentially growing off-balance sheet expenses topped the list. Every time a new 10-Q came out, that number skyrocketed to the nearly $4 billion level it stands at today. Now, way after the fact, that debt gets a ton of attention. When the stock was preparing to hit $300, nobody seemed to care. Ironically, Netflix now appears to have its content expenses under control. Off-balance sheet obligations actually decreased sequentially between the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2011 and March 30. When the company finally gets around to releasing its latest 10-Q, we'll see that, sequentially, they're basically flat. In response to my conference call question, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings scoffed at the notion of "reining in" content acquisition costs. It's all semantics. If they haven't been reined in, Hastings, at the very least, decided to stabilize them and make smarter, more-focused content buys. Couple this with several other bullish developments and the Johnny-come-lately NFLX bearishness proves Wall Street has no clue on this stock. In addition to its success with Kids TV, smaller-scale and sometimes partially exclusive content deals and fewer wide-ranging purchases of dime-a-dozen reruns, Netflix appears to be onto something by streaming past seasons of solid cable series.