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Forget Netflix, iQiyi Is a Better Streaming Video Stock

By Rick Munarriz – Nov 20, 2018 at 9:30AM

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The two fast-growing streaming video services have corrected sharply off their springtime highs. They're ready to bounce back, but China's top dog should have the upper hand from today's starting line.

It's safe to say that iQiyi (IQ -2.50%) in China and Netflix (NFLX -1.12%) just about everywhere else have never been as popular as they are right now. The two leading streaming services grew their audiences by millions of net additions in the third quarter, and they are both expected to keep growing in the near term.

Unfortunately for investors, we can't also say that the two stocks are as popular as they have ever been at the moment. China's iQiyi has plummeted 58% since peaking five months ago. Netflix has held up relatively better, but good luck telling those shareholders who have seen their stakes plunge 36% since hitting all-time highs six months ago how fortunate they must be feeling. 

It hurts to be an investor in the leaders of premium video these days. I'm a Netflix investor, and it's my largest position. I'm feeling the pain. Netflix is cheap, but I also have to concede that -- right now -- iQiyi is the one that might be the better stock to nibble on.

Cast shoot of Spain's "Elite" running on Netflix.

Netflix original program "Elite." Image source: Netflix.

Field and stream

The dinner bell is ringing strong for iQiyi and Netflix. They are both doing a great job growing their empires. Revenue rose 48% at iQiyi in its third quarter, fueled by a 78% surge in membership services revenue. iQiyi has been migrating ad-supported freeloaders into paying customers. It's becoming less YouTube and more Netflix, and this is the right time for the right model.

Netflix isn't growing as quickly as iQiyi, but it's no slouch. Revenue rose 34% in its latest quarter -- deceleration after back-to-back periods of growth just north of 40%, but still just ahead of its earlier guidance. Both companies are eyeing slowing-yet-robust growth in the current quarter, with iQiyi and Netflix eyeing 43% to 49% and 28% top-line growth, respectively. 

Both companies have a pulse on what viewers want, and not just because they are in the process of ramping up the money that they're investing in original content. Netflix now has 137.1 million members worldwide, 25% more than it had on its rolls a year earlier. iQiyi is at just 80.7 million premium subscribers -- and they're paying far less, on average, than Netflix accounts. However, that figure has soared 89% over the past year. 

Netflix and iQiyi aren't cheap on an earnings basis. Netflix is trading for 64 times next year's projected earnings despite the stock's retreat. iQiyi still isn't profitable, so Netflix wins that round by default. However, in terms of top-line results, we find iQiyi fetching a revenue multiple just north of four -- less than half of Netflix's market markup. 

The sell-off in both stocks has been overdone. Netflix and iQiyi should be market darlings. Their fundamentals remain strong and, unlike most consumer-facing companies, these are all-weather enterprises. If we go into an economic slump, it won't slow down either of these two dot-com speedsters, as they offer compelling value propositions for folks in recessionary times. We obviously know how well they do when the going is good. Both stocks are bargains at this point, but with iQiyi growing faster, offering heartier guidance, and trading at half of the revenue multiple, it's hard not to give it the nod. If you like Netflix, you're going to love iQiyi.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends iQiyi. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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