Way to go, Netflix
The popular entertainer's stock poked its head above the $100 mark yesterday. It also opened in the triple digits this morning, before gravity got the best of it.
As a Netflix shareholder since 2002, I'm pumped. I never thought the stock would trade this high. This has nothing to do with a lack of confidence in the company's model or a dismissal of its rosy outlook. I just never thought Netflix would let its stock trade this high without declaring a stock split.
Netflix declared only one split in its eight years of public trading. It executed a 2-for-1 split six years ago, when its stock was a septuagenarian. For every share investors held after the stock closed at $71.96 on Feb. 11, 2004, they got two shares at $31.98 apiece.
It's a zero-sum game, of course, but it was the psychologically fashionable move at the time. There were plenty of reasons for the plethora of 2-for-1 and 3-for-2 splits during the 1990s and early 2000s.
- Individual investors seemed easier to woo into buying a round lot of 100 shares at lower price points.
- A high share price sometimes gives the impression that an investor missed the boat.
- Stocks would often rally on the news of a stock split, since Wall Street interpreted the events as upbeat moves. If a company executed a split, it was often assumed that it felt that its stock would have remained high without one.
- Companies cave in to peer pressure, too. At the time, everybody was doing it.
Times have changed. After all, if Netflix split in the $70s six years ago, why wouldn't it do the same thing again? Heck, given the 2004 mindset, investors would be expecting a 3-for-1 stock split announcement soon.
It isn't going to happen.
Why? Peer pressure is rearing its ugly head again.
Three digits are better than two
Cool stocks don't split anymore. Apple
Apple wasn't always this way. The country's third largest company by market cap went for a 2-for-1 split five years ago, when its stock was closing in on $90. The Apple split machine was also busy in 2000, just as its stock crossed the $100 mark before the tech bubble popped. If you're a stickler enough to go all the way back 1987, you will find yet another 2-for-1 split when Apple's stock was trading in the high double digits.
In a nutshell, Apple declared three 2-for-1 splits whenever the speedometer threatened to take the stock into the triple digits. These days, it couldn't care less.
Netflix isn't splitting because Apple isn't splitting.
Why isn't Apple splitting? Hello, Google
Big G thinks big
The world's leading search engine marches to its own beat. It went public, hoping to price its shares as high as $135. It settled for $85. Obviously, a company bent on keeping a low share price would never dream of that kind of starting line. It could have split its stock before the IPO, in order to price its debut in the high teens of low $20s with a greater number of shares outstanding.
A year after Google went public, Baidu
Google and Baidu closed at $547.06 and $640.04, respectively, yesterday. Neither company has declared a split, and the historical gains prove that the triple-digit prices have not created obstacles for potential investors. We live in discounted-brokerage times, so there's really no harm in buying 10 shares of Google for $5,470.60 if you don't have $55k burning a hole in your account to buy a round lot.
Share prices are the new badges
The market's priciest stock on a per-share basis is Berkshire Hathaway
Warren Buffett is no fan of splits, but the move was almost necessary in sealing the Burlington Northern purchase.
Does this mean Netflix, Apple, Google, and Baidu are all Buffett wannabes? Well, that may be a stretch, but at least one company is at is making no bones about its Buffett fandom. Biglari Holdings
In the end, hundreds have become the new tens. Maybe one of the market darlings will flinch as it approaches $1,000, and then it will be interesting to see whether peer pressure triggers a wave of stock splits.
This has to be it, right? It can't just be that rallying stocks over the past year, after years of lackluster trading, simply forgot the unwritten stock-split rules.
Will any of these stocks declare stock splits in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments box at the bottom of this page.
Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Baidu and Google are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor choices. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has never split, though he has had a splitting headache. He owns shares of Netflix and is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.