Earnings season is here, and Netflix (NFLX -1.78%) is one of the first growth stock bellwethers to report. The world's leading premium video service reports after the market close on Monday, and expectations are running high.
Netflix's guidance issued three months ago is fairly ambitious. It sees revenue rising 40% to $3.686 billion. Profitability is pegged to grow even faster, with net income rising 58% to $282 million or $0.63 a share. This translates into net margin clocking in just north of its 7.4% peak for all of 2010.
Too good to be true
Analysts also seem to feel that Netflix may be a bit aggressive here. Netflix typically issues conservative guidance, leading Wall Street pros to set up camp well ahead of the dot-com darling's public forecast. However, this time around analysts are holding out for a profit of $0.64 a share on $3.69 billion in growth, just a hair above Netflix's January guidance on both ends of the income statement.
Investors are also pinching themselves. The stock has soared 37% since posting blowout fourth-quarter results. Netflix stock hit an all-time high last month, it went on to correct sharply with the general market, but momentum is clearly back in its corner as we head into Monday afternoon's telltale report. Shares of Netflix closed higher every day last week, rising nearly 8% in the process.
Wall Street doesn't want to be left behind. The already bullish Ken Sena at Wells Fargo raised his price target from $285 to $345 on Friday, arguing that a recent survey shows many existing subscribers are willing to pay even more for the service.
Bryan Kraft at Deutsche Bank upgraded the stock to buy from neutral, jacking up his price goal from $240 to $350. Kraft feels he underestimated the market's reaction to Netflix sacrificing near-term free cash flow for the sake of subscriber growth. He sees upside to Netflix's subscriber guidance for the first quarter, which back in January was calling for 6.35 million in net additions through the first three months of the year.
Whether or not Netflix exceeds or falls short of its target of 123.9 million total subscribers by the end of March will likely influence the stock's direction, but naturally the guidance it initiates for the second quarter will be a big factor in determining the way that the S&P 500's hottest stock over the past five years moves on Tuesday. Netflix remains a market darling, and momentum is on its side with most -- but not all -- analysts putting out updated notes last week waxing bullish. It's time for Netflix to shine, and that's something that it's done more often than not in recent years.