Earnings season is here, and one of the early trick-or-treaters will be Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). The leading premium streaming service steps up with its third-quarter financials next week, and there's a lot riding on Tuesday afternoon's report.
Stakes are high for one of the hottest S&P 500 components over the past five years. The stock has shed a quarter of its value since hitting all-time highs in June, a good chunk of that coming this week given the swooning market. The stock has pulled back enough where it could come through with a strong bounce if next week's report impresses investors, but let's take a look at some of the things that can go wrong for Netflix.
1. Missing guidance -- again -- would be brutal
Netflix fell woefully short of its subscriber forecast last time out. Netflix closed out the second quarter with 5.15 million more subscribers than it had when the period began, a number that most streaming services would kill for but well below the 6.2 million net additions it was targeting three months earlier.
It goes without saying that falling short of public projections is a bad look, but it would be particularly dubious if Netflix misses the mark in back-to-back quarters. Netflix has bounced back with blowout reports the two previous times that it has failed to meet or exceed its forecast. Investors have been able to forgive the misses as one-offs, but a repeat performance would be as rare as it would be problematic in trusting Netflix's future outlooks.
2. Apple and Amazon could unleash legitimate competition
Netflix dominates its niche, but reports are bubbling about other tech giants making a bigger push for the streaming video market. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is reportedly ready to launch an IMDb-branded service. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is striking content deals for its own inevitable platform.
Tech giants have taken on Netflix before, but a distinctive feature of these services is that the chatter centers around them being made available to select users at no additional cost. Amazon's IMDb platform would be available to existing Amazon Prime customers and owners of Fire TV devices. CNBC is reporting that Apple's original content may be included on its TV app and available for free on iOS devices.
Amazon already competes against Netflix by giving away Prime Video to its more than 100 million Amazon Prime subscribers, and Netflix hasn't broken a sweat as it pads its lead over the rest of the industry. However, the growing availability of free content could blur the value proposition of premium platforms.
Whatever Amazon and Apple have cooking obviously didn't factor into Netflix's third-quarter financials, and there's no way Netflix can bake that into its guidance for the current quarter. However, CEO Reed Hastings has been frank in sizing up competitive challenges in the past. This is a subject that could come up in Tuesday's shareholder letter, and any sign of concern will be amplified by the investing community.
3. Decelerating growth is rearing its ugly had
Netflix is working on what could be its third consecutive year of accelerating revenue growth, but the trend is already starting to go the other way. Revenue rose 40.4% in the first quarter and 40.3% in the second quarter, and while you have to go back to 2011 to find the last time that Netflix was sporting top-line increases north of 40%, its outlook for the third quarter was far more sobering.
Netflix is eyeing 34% in revenue growth for the third quarter. Analysts are holding out for a 29% increase in the fourth quarter, so expectations are for Netflix's guidance to call for continuing year-over-year revenue deceleration when it initiates guidance for the period shortly after Tuesday's market close.
The stock has taken a big hit over the past four months, and expectations seem reasonable. Netflix is a prime candidate to bounce back next week, but between its sloppy outlooks, looming competitive pressures, and decelerating growth, there are several things that can go wrong.