Netflix (NFLX 1.73%) stock was a Wall Street darling for many years. But that impressive run ended in the wake of the pandemic as sales growth trends slowed from around 20% in mid-2022 to less than 2% in the most recent quarter.

Yet the streaming video giant's rebound has already started, which suggests a potential end ahead for the challenges that pushed the stock lower over the past year or so. Let's take a look at a few factors that point to solid investor returns from here.

1. The flywheel isn't broken

The main fear around Netflix stock in mid-2022 was that the company had lost control of its own growth story. Despite a steady stream of new content releases, the company posted its first back-to-back quarters of declining subscriber counts in Q1 and Q2. A growth hangover from earlier phases of the pandemic played a role, but management also admitted that Netflix had lost a step in its competitive posture.

But smart investors know that the company's flywheel is still operational. Investments in content and in improving the streaming platform paid off handsomely in the last two quarters, with hits like Wednesday pushing subscriber gains well above expectations in late 2022. Netflix added 7.7 million users in Q4. "We believe we have a clear path to reaccelerate our revenue growth," management said in late January.

2. Netflix is highly profitable

With peers like Walt Disney and Roku struggling to profit from streaming, fears have spiked around Netflix's earnings potential. Operating income landed at a weak 7% of sales this past quarter, after all.

ROKU Operating Margin (TTM) Chart

ROKU Operating Margin (TTM) data by YCharts

Look a bit closer and you'll see plenty of evidence of solid profitability, though. Netflix's average monthly revenue rose 5% in Q4 after accounting for currency exchange rate swings. Margins look strong and stable over longer periods, too. Operating income was 20% of sales through 2022 compared to 22% in 2021 and 20% in 2020.

3. Achievable goals

Netflix's long-term goal hasn't changed through the volatility brought on by the pandemic and its aftermath. Management is aiming for double-digit annual sales growth, along with expanding profitability over time.

Investors can see concrete steps toward these goals in the 2023 forecast calling for operating margin to return to between 21% and 22% of sales. Revenue growth will be helped along by a rising user base, a crackdown on shared accounts, and the new advertising platform.

But the most encouraging metric might be free cash flow, which is projected to jump to $3 billion in 2023 from $1.6 billion last year. Gains like that suggest that Netflix has room to significantly expand its financial strength as it capitalizes on its global scale and pricing power. The cash also provides flexibility for management to continue investing heavily in content at a time when many peers are in cost-cutting mode.

Many of those content investments won't turn into global TV series hits. That's the nature of the streaming business. But Netflix has demonstrated that it can steadily improve its portfolio of original shows and movies, leading to improved user growth and retention. Those are the main factors that will drive the business forward over the next several years.