Netflix Is Faster Than You Think

The attraction is undeniable, even if Netflix's (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) bottom-line guidance leaves a lot to be desired.

The digital media operator came through with another blowout quarter. A record 3.6 million net subscribers have come on board over the past three months, as Netflix now watches over 22.8 million domestic accounts and 0.8 million Canadian streamers.

Revenue soared 46% to $718.6 million, with earnings per share soaring 88% to $1.11. Analysts were settling for a profit of $1.08 a share on $703.6 million in revenue. Fears that escalating streaming content costs would eat into its income statement were overblown. Netflix's $79 million in free cash flow and operating margins of 16% were its strongest quarterly showing in years.

Shares hit a new all-time high yesterday, so Netflix would have to stick its landing to impress Mr. Market. It didn't.

Netflix's guidance calls for the dot-com darling to close out the second quarter with 24.9 million to 25.85 million subscribers, generating $778 million to $798 million in revenue. It is targeting a profit of $0.93 a share to $1.15 a share, with net operating margins falling back to its 14% goal. Analysts were only banking on $763 million in second-quarter revenue, but their bottom-line estimate is an aggressive $1.19 a share.

Bulls will argue that Netflix historically cranks out a conservative outlook, but those words are hard to hear when ears are popping given the stock's lofty multiples.

There are also some model uncertainties on the horizon. Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Prime and Tinseltown-backed Hulu Plus have rolled out digital smorgasbords. Netflix sees Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH  ) entering the fray with its recently acquired Blockbuster banner. Coinstar's (Nasdaq: CSTR  ) Redbox has been promising a digital strategy for a long time.

Netflix also takes the time in last night's shareholder letter to address the bandwidth data caps recently initiated by AT&T (NYSE: T  ) on its residential DSL service. Netflix responded to concerns of tiered pricing with stiff overage charges through Canada's Rogers Communications (NYSE: RCI  ) by offering smaller-sized video files. It's something that may come into play domestically if more Internet providers follow suit.

Despite the noise, Netflix still has room to grow. It will enter a new international market during the second half of the year, and it has already started securing content for its third international market for an early 2012 rollout. The overseas push doesn't come cheap. Canada is still losing money. However, the inevitable transition from optical disc to streaming means that Netflix needs to act quickly to be an early exporter given the level playing field of digital delivery.

Netflix isn't cheap. It closed last night at nearly 40 times next year's projected profitability. Netflix is thankfully growing at an even headier clip, but bears will have ammo as streaming licensing deal expenses and international losses offset the benefits of fewer DVD shipments per member.

Tenuous pros will naturally aim lower than they should in three months. With a little practice, maybe Netflix can stick its landing.

Will Netflix be as successful overseas as it is closer to home? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

AT&T is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Amazon.com and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Rogers Communications is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Alpha Newsletter Account, LLC has bought puts on Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a Netflix shareholder -- and subscriber -- since 2002. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2011, at 4:12 PM, colddish wrote:

    I keep expecting to see the headline-"Netflix discovers cure for cancer, shares fall 5%. 5 years or so from now when Netflix has doubled, all the current naysayers will be feverishly denying that they ever doubted the company.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2011, at 5:10 PM, richleaves wrote:

    The fact is a good portion of the streaming content that netflix has is from Starz. Netlfix lucked out with a lucrative deal with Starz. But thats going to end and they are going to have to pay to play. Cable companies and Sat companies aren't going to let Starz just give content away without Netflix paying their fair share.

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