In the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak, millions of people have been quarantined while more have been encouraged to work at home.
That limited mobility is creating havoc for the world's economies, even prompting the Federal Reserve to issue an emergency half-point Fed Funds rate cut.
It's also driving shares of Netflix (NFLX 5.03%) higher.
Last week amid a steep sell-off in stocks due to fears the outbreak resulting from COVID-19 will spark a recession, Netflix was an outlier. It was one of the top performers in the S&P 500 Index, with shares in the green surrounded by a sea of red. Investors flocked to Netflix as a safe haven, betting the video streaming service provider will benefit from the quarantines. After all, what else are people going to do when they are stuck at home?
Year-to-date shares of Netflix are up about 18.6%. That's with an almost 800-point decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average Tuesday. At the same time, shares of movie theater stocks are plummeting. AMC Entertainment (AMC 3.48%) is down 19.6% since the start of 2020, while Cinemark (CNK 6.47%) is off 28.5%. Live Nation (LYV 5.93%), the owner of Ticketmaster, is also under pressure, down almost 16.4% so far in 2020.
Stay-at-home mentality good for Netflix
If the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the U.S., consumers are going to hunker down at home. That means fewer movie ticket sales for the theater operators, but more business for digital service providers, including Netflix.
That hunkering down mentality is also prompting Wall Street to come out with lists of "Stay at Home" stocks that could benefit from the coronavirus malaise. Topping many of the lists: Netflix.
"We tried to identify what products/services/companies would potentially benefit in a world of quarantined individuals," MKM Partners analyst JC O'Hara wrote when announcing the investment firm's basket of stay-at-home stocks last week. "What would people do if stuck inside all day?" Outside of Netflix, MKM named Amazon (AMZN 3.58%), Slack (WORK) and Zoom Video Communications (ZM 4.22%) as stay-at-home stocks that may benefit from coronavirus.
International exposure is a strength during the global outbreak
Having international exposure, particularly in Asia, during the coronavirus outbreak is typically a liability for businesses. Just ask Apple (AAPL 2.45%) and Microsoft (MSFT 3.42%), both of which were forced to issue investor warnings for their current quarters. But it's also a benefit to the likes of Netflix if it means more people are signing up for the service.
At the time of writing, there are 95,184 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide. It has resulted in 3,254 deaths, the majority of which have occurred in China. The coronavirus has spread globally, including in the U.S., where there have been 158 cases reported and a total of 11 deaths. If the coronavirus spreads more, or governments are forced to institute quarantines, Netflix's international business could see even more growth.
Internationally, Netflix has been in growth mode as it enters new markets and tests cheaper plans that are resonating with consumers. For its fourth quarter, it added 8.33 million new subscribers, blowing past expectations to add 7 million. Of its 167 million paid subscribers as of the end of the fourth quarter, 106 million aren't based in the U.S. If more consumers around the world are quarantined or are afraid to go out, it could increase those subscriber numbers. In turn, if Netflix is able to surpass expectations, the stock may appreciate further.
Coronavirus could breathe new life into Netflix's domestic business
In the U.S., coronavirus could breathe new life into Netflix's business. U.S. subscriber growth has been slowing, as it faces increased competition, causing Netflix to miss targets for its fourth quarter. For the last three months of the year, it added 400,000 domestic subscribers, far short of its internal target of 600,000 subscribers. Netflix forecast 7 million new paid customers for its first quarter, lower than the more than 8 million subscribers Wall Street had projected.
That was before coronavirus fear was widespread. Those targets could change if more cases of coronavirus are reported in the U.S. and the government quarantines individuals en masse. If schools close, stores shut down, and consumers avoid public places, Netflix will likely pick up more subscribers in the U.S than anticipated. That's on top of the potential for higher-than-forecast international growth -- all of which could set Netflix up for a stronger first quarter, if not year.