It's not business as usual at Netflix (NFLX 0.94%) as we head into Monday afternoon's quarterly report. At least four analysts have either lowered their price targets or issued bearish notes over the past three weeks.
That's troubling ahead of Netflix's second-quarter results that will spill into the market shortly after Monday's market close. Wall Street pros can be wrong. There's no shortage of analysts who have been burned by betting against the leading provider of premium video streams. However, there are also a few things that can end poorly for Netflix this time around. Let's check them out while there's still time.
1. The rate increase could be a trap
Netflix has been notifying longtime subscribers in recent days that their monthly rates are going up next month. They've been receiving the notices a month ahead of their August billing cycle.
In theory, this news is two years old. Subscribers were told in May 2014 that the monthly rates for the most popular plan that allows high-def streaming on as many as two screens at the same time would increase from $7.99 to $8.99. A year later it would go to $9.99 a month. The increases only went into effect for new customers. Older accounts were promised two years at the old rate. That window closed two months ago, but we knew Netflix wasn't going to jack up prices in May.
"We will phase out this grandfathering gradually over the remainder of 2016," Netflix wrote in April's letter to shareholders, detailing its first-quarter results. "We are rolling this out slowly over the year, rather than mostly in May, so we can learn as we go."
Well, it seems as if everybody is being hit with the increase through August, and making the first wave of announcements ahead of Monday's quarterly report might not be a coincidence. If the report is unflattering -- and Netflix's guidance in April called for this to be its weakest period of net membership growth in two years -- it can point to next month's increase as a catalyst. Subscriber growth may be slowing and the guidance for the third quarter may be disappointing, but now it has both a scapegoat and a silver lining in the event that will find it milking more revenue per subscriber.
2. The Olympics could be another scapegoat
At least one analyst has voiced concerns about next month's Olympics and the impact that it will have on Netflix. With the world glued to a couple of weeks of live competitions through traditional television, it makes a Netflix subscription less necessary.
Netflix will probably bring up the Olympics on Monday afternoon, particularly if its guidance is weak. We saw Netflix do this in 2012, and the most problematic part of that report is that it ultimately fell short of its historically conservative guidance for net subscribers during that year's third quarter.
3. The audacity of 2.5 million net additions
Netflix's April guidance called for it to close out the quarter that ended in June with 2.5 million more streaming accounts than it had by the end of March. Most streaming services would love that kind of absolute growth, but it was unsettling for Netflix subscribers.
This is a seasonally sleepy period for sign ups, but the troublesome nugget is that this would represent the first time that year-over-year growth in net additions declines since Netflix began breaking out this information in 2010. If net additions fall below the 3.28 million it amassed during last year's second quarter -- a safe bet -- it would be a distinctive quarter for all of the wrong reasons.
Things can get worse if guidance falls short, and holding off on the rate increase until the third quarter could be an indication that the second quarter was off to a slow start in terms of attraction and retention. Netflix has the Olympics and rate increase to lean on as excuses for its possible lackluster guidance, but if the second quarter itself is also a disappointment, the stock could take a hit when the market opens again on Tuesday.