BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Deciding whether to buy Netflix (NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. (NFLX) Report shares is a tough call, given that, for all its fans, there are almost as many haters of the movie-streaming company.
Of Netflix's 51 million shares outstanding, a fifth are sold short, meaning those investors are betting on a decline. That compares with tech darling
, of which only a little more than 1% of its shares are sold short.
Hedge funds' moves on the buying and selling of Netflix can help give direction.
Managers of hedge funds, which cater to wealthy individuals and institutions, were net buyers of Netflix in the first quarter, bumping their combined stake by 50%, or 2.3 million shares, to 6.7 million shares. Combined with share-price appreciation, hedge funds' holdings rose by $814 million to a market value of $1.6 billion as of March 31. Los Gatos, Calif.-based Netflix is worth $12.5 billion on the open market.
Still, hedge-fund buying was outweighed by the selling of mutual fund firm Fidelity alone, which unloaded 2.6 million shares in the quarter, reducing its holdings to 1.4 million shares, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Fidelity's move came as Netflix shares have more than doubled in the past year.
Netflix is now trading at around $240 and sports a price-to-earnings ratio of a sky-high 68 versus its industry peers' average of 26. The S&P 500 Index has trailed by a wide margin, rising 19% over the past 12 months. The benchmark's P/E ratio is 16.4.
Standard & Poor's analysts have a "sell" rating on Netflix, noting that "the risk/reward quotient on the shares is negative."
"In addition, we are concerned that Internet retailer
recent entry into the streaming business, along with other competitive pressures, may adversely impact Netflix's longer-term growth trajectory," the analysts said in a research note.
Analysts tracked by Standard & Poor's give Netflix six "buy" ratings, seven "buy/holds," 11 "holds," four "weak holds" and three "sells."
likes Netflix's prospects as it shifts its focus from DVD rentals to online streaming. Tiger Global initiated a stake of 832,000 shares in the first quarter, double that of the next biggest hedge fund. That makes it the fund's seventh-largest holding, at 4.8% of the portfolio.
is the biggest owner of Netflix among hedge funds. The firm owns 1 million shares, or 1.9% of Netflix's outstanding shares, after adding 295,000 shares in the quarter. It's the fund's seventh-largest holding.
The hedge fund Ivory Investment Management almost doubled its stake in Netflix in the quarter, buying 408,300 shares to bring its holding to 908,300 shares, or 1.7% of the company.
Netflix investors got some good news Monday when the company announced a multiyear deal with independent film distributor Miramax to stream hundreds of titles through the movie-rental company's instant-viewing service.
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