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There are two schools of thought heading into next year, and you don't want to flunk out of either one.
The optimists believe that the economy and global stock markets will bottom out next year. Consumer-facing stocks will rise again. The pessimists feel that things will get even worse in 2009. Only the companies that deliver real value to homebound worrywarts will thrive.
No matter what school of thought happens to be your alma mater, how can you not like Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) ?
In bad times
Unemployment creeps higher in 2009. Disposable income dries up. We become homebodies as "dinner and a movie" becomes simply raiding the pantry and watching TV.
Believe it or not, that seemingly cruel climate still makes for ideal growing conditions for Netflix.
The cost for the service is certainly reasonable, with the average customer paying just $13.60 a month. It may not be the cheapest entertainment subscription service out there -- Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) is slightly cheaper -- however, for less than a pair of tickets at the local multiplex, Netflix subscribers enjoy a smorgasbord of DVD rentals and Web-based streams. Now that most major networks are streaming their shows online for free, consumers may be more likely to cancel their pricier cable and satellite television plans than letting Netflix go.
Netflix also has it all over other digital streaming services: 12,000 of the more than 100,000 DVDs in the Netflix library are available for online streaming at no additional cost. Sure, the movies aren't typically the first-run blockbusters, but it's hard to argue the price. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) , and Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI ) all charge extra for their digitally-delivered flicks.
It also doesn't hurt that Netflix will stream through so many existing home theater appliances -- like TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) DVRs and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Xbox 360 video game consoles -- instead of just PC viewing options.
In good times
Netflix continues to grow. Earnings should clock in at $1.29 a share this year after posting a profit of $0.97 a share last year. Analysts see net income of $1.48 a share in 2009.
The catch here is that things could be a lot better. Wall Street's projections are taking into account that Netflix lowered its year-end subscriber count target twice in October. Don't cry for Netflix. The company will still see its subs grow by 18% to 22% in 2008, from the 7.5 million members it served when the year began.
Churn also held steady in its latest quarter, so the perfect storm of a teetering economy and growing availability of digitally-delivered content isn't eating into the company's business. It also didn't sting comps at real-world rival Blockbuster. In other words, folks are still hungry for borrowed DVDs.
Naturally, a buoyant economy would be better for Netflix. New customers would trickle in. Existing members would upgrade their membership plans to have more physical DVDs out at a time. Just because Netflix is a company that is built for a bear doesn't mean that it can't run with the bulls.
The ultimate testimonial
I'm not just a fan of Netflix. I have been both a subscriber and a shareholder since 2002. Put simply, Netflix is one of the few unstoppable brands out there. It's a company that delivers entertainment, one red envelope mailer at a time.
Now that Netflix is way ahead of the competition in delivering digital value, it will be hard for anyone to catch it. You can, of course. You can enroll today into both schools of thought for 2009. The dual diplomas look good on you.
If you see things my way, head on over to the Motley Fool CAPS community and give Netflix an outperform rating. And if you don't, head on over anyway, call underperform, and tell us why.
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