Since hitting its peak in November 2021, Netflix's (NFLX -0.33%) stock has tumbled relentlessly, losing half its value. The streaming video pioneer added fuel to the sell-off fire when it guided for much lower subscriber growth in the 2022 first quarter, suggesting that its pandemic-related growth spurt was well and truly over.
This wouldn't be the first time Netflix's management erred on the side of conservatism, and a growing number of analysts are suggesting that the stock sell-off has gone too far. In fact, recent analysis suggests investors could be in for a shocker when the streaming leader reports its first-quarter results after the market close on Tuesday, April 19.
One number to rule them all
Investors have long obsessed over Netflix's subscriber growth as the proxy for its ongoing opportunity. That's why the stock sold off in January when management forecast just 2.5 million new subscribers for the first quarter, a significant decline from the 8.28 million it delivered in the fourth quarter. It's important to remember that historically, the first quarter is seasonally slower for Netflix, so management's lower guidance makes sense.
Since its peak in November, Netflix shares have slumped more than 50%. That said, a number of Wall Street analysts are convinced that its subscriber growth will easily outstrip estimates, which could lead to a significant recovery for the floundering stock.
Analysts' consensus estimates are currently calling for Netflix to increase its global subscriber base by roughly 2.8 million -- ahead of the company's guidance -- but some on Wall Street are expecting even more robust growth. Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall recently raised his subscriber forecast from 2.5 million to 2.9 million, citing the firm's analysis of monthly active users (MAUs). Guggenheim analyst Michael Morris is even more bullish, calling for 3 million net new subs, citing third-party Apptopia download data.
The wild card
There is a wild card in the deck in terms of Netflix's subscriber numbers. The company announced early last month that it had suspended service in Russia, in response to the country's invasion of Ukraine. That followed earlier moves in which the streaming company refused to broadcast Russian state-controlled television channels and suspended production of all of its Russian-language original programming.
Netflix has never reported exactly how many subscribers it had in Russia, though most analysts estimate the number between 1 million and 2 million, and have included those as reductions in their quarterly estimates.
A quick review of Netflix's forecasts suggests that more often than not, the company beats its subscriber growth estimates, and given its tendency of being conservative in its guidance, that also makes perfect sense.
Netflix stock is currently trading at just 23 times 2023 earnings estimates, its lowest valuation in nearly a decade. This suggests that the selling may have gone a bit too far, giving Netflix the potential for an earnings surprise when the company reports results on Tuesday, April 19, after the market close.