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Where have all of Netflix's (Nasdaq: NFLX ) glowing five-star ratings gone?
Shares of the DVD rental service fell this morning, after analyst Barton Crockett from Lazard Capital Markets downgraded them.
Crockett is concerned about the company's ability to keep growing at a healthy pace, predicting that year-end subscribers clocked in at the low end of the company's guidance of 12 million to 12.3 million accounts.
He's not alone.
Citigroup and Merriman Curhan Ford downgraded the stock last month. You have to go all the way back to the summer to find the latest time a major analyst has upgraded shares of Netflix.
In theory, this is just when Netflix likes its analysts. The company has beaten Wall Street's bottom-line targets in each of the six previous quarters, growing recessionary wings at a time when many consumer-based subscription services struggled.
Analysts fear that the company's strategy of spending to widen its library of streaming flicks and television shows will keep margins in check, but I see it as a great subscriber retention tool.
After all, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) want to sell or rent out individual titles. Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI ) and Coinstar's (Nasdaq: CSTR ) Redbox kiosks want to rent you physical discs, one at a time. There really isn't a worthy competitor taking on Netflix's smorgasbord approach to digital, where unlimited streaming is available at no additional cost to most of the company's subscribers.
In the meantime, Netflix is aggressively padding its celluloid moat. I'm not a big fan of the second-citizenry implications of its recent deal to give Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) four weeks of marketing new retail DVD releases before making them available to its members, but I get that it makes financial sense. If Netflix invests those savings into more streaming options -- even if only half of its subscribers are using the service -- it's not just throwing money away. There will come a time when others take on the Netflix streaming buffet model, and it's simply building a bigger and bigger lead.
Along the way, what does it say about Netflix that it has been able to beat analyst expectations save for a few rare quarters? The company, quite frankly, knows how to manage expectations and align its costs to generate applause-worthy profitability.
Hating on Netflix has been a dangerous pastime. It's not likely it will be any different in the future.
Are you growing bearish on Netflix? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.