We're slightly more than nine months into 2022, and Netflix (NFLX -0.57%) shares are down 62% for the year. For a stock that produced a remarkable return of 6,000% from the start of 2012 through the end of 2021, this is a rude awakening.
The streaming industry is becoming hyper-competitive, a fact that management can no longer ignore. What's more, Netflix itself is undergoing a major strategic shift in an effort to spur growth once again. Should investors buy the top streaming stock today? Let's take a closer look.
Netflix has had a rough time in 2022, losing a combined 1.2 million subscribers in the first six months of the year. This is a far cry from the massive customer additions investors have become used to seeing in recent years. And unsurprisingly, revenue growth has dramatically slowed. Sales of $8 billion in the second quarter were up just 8.6% year over year, the slowest pace in at least the last nine years.
I really think this shift comes down to one key factor: the intense competition for consumers' eyeballs. With a seemingly unlimited number of streaming options on the market, Netflix is no longer the only game in town -- not to mention all of the other entertainment choices people have that don't involve staring at a screen.
The company is set to announce Q3 financial results on Tuesday, Oct. 18. Management expects the business to increase revenue by 4.7% year over year, and forecasts 1 million net new subscribers. A strong showing will certainly support a higher stock price.
Despite recent headwinds, Netflix's global opportunity is still massive. There are currently roughly 800 million broadband households worldwide (excluding China, where Netflix isn't offered), a figure that can be viewed as Netflix's total addressable market. With 221 million subscribers today, there's still a large growth opportunity ahead.
It's starting to look like Netflix's most mature markets, the U.S. and Canada, are saturated, as these two countries lost a combined 1.9 million members over the past two quarters. Therefore, international markets will be the key driver when it comes to attracting more customers. The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, is the fastest growing segment for Netflix, adding almost 7 million subscribers over the last four quarters.
To boost the company's prospects, management earlier this year announced plans to introduce a cheaper, ad-supported subscription tier. Reed Hastings, Netflix's co-founder and co-CEO, long rejected this idea because he thought it would damage the brand and consumer experience. But with growth hitting a wall, and heightened competition in the industry, this seems like a no-brainer strategic move.
The company believes that some 40 million accounts will be signed up for this option by the end of Q3 2023. But undoubtedly, some customers who pay for the ad-free version will move over to the lower-cost option, making it hard to pinpoint the incremental revenue opportunity. Partnering with tech giant Microsoft on this endeavor, Netflix will make its ad-based subscription option available in select markets starting in November.
It's also worth mentioning Netflix's gaming push. While the company wants to bring more games to market in order to raise the value proposition of being a Netflix subscriber, and has purchased multiple studios to help this initiative, gaming hasn't moved the financial needle just yet.
After hitting an all-time high closing price of $692 last November, Netflix shares are down 67%. And as a result, the stock is currently trading hands at a price-to-earnings ratio of under 21, which is about as cheap as it has been at any point over the past decade. This simple metric signals an attractive entry price.
However, looking at Netflix's earnings might not be the right approach to valuation. This is because the company spends huge amounts of cash on content -- more than $17 billion in 2021 -- rendering accounting profits essentially meaningless. Therefore, the price-to-sales (P/S) multiple might be more appropriate in this situation. Currently, the P/S ratio stands at 3.4, about half the trailing 10-year average. Again, this shows us that Netflix stock is cheap by historical measures.
It certainly looks like the monster growth that investors have expecting from Netflix over the past decade is coming to an end. But that doesn't mean it's time to abandon the stock. In fact, the business, which has long been a cash-burning machine, is on the cusp of generating sustainable positive free cash flow, starting with this year. Add this to an undemanding valuation, and investors should consider buying shares in the streaming pioneer now.