Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) was riding high three months ago. The stock bounced more than 20% in a month, fueled by analyst upgrades and CEO Reed Hastings' bullish comments on his streaming video service's popularity.
But the fun didn't last long. The stock plunged to new 52-week lows when Netflix reported second-quarter results -- not because that quarter was terribly bad, but because Hastings said he might miss his subscriber count goals in 2012.
So here we are again, watching Netflix prepare for this Tuesday's third-quarter report. Hastings has kept eerily quiet this time, which I suppose might be appropriate when American neighborhoods fill up with Halloween decorations. Will the company's results do the talking for him?
The word on the Street
Analyst estimates cover a lot of territory here. Earnings targets range from a $0.14 non-GAAP profit per share to per-share losses of $0.07. The average target sits $0.04 into positive territory. Management's own guidance range is even wider, believe it or not. Either way, it's a long way from the year-ago period's $1.16 haul per share.
Sales targets seem easier to pin down. The analyst range goes from $899 million to $918 million, which averages out to $905 million.
For what it's worth, Netflix has a habit of crushing earnings targets. The company has obliterated Wall Street's estimates by 23%, 33%, 70%, and 120% in the past four quarters.
Keep a close eye on the domestic net additions, because other investors sure will.
At the start of 2012, Netflix had 23.6 million streaming service customers across North and South America. That includes 21.7 million in the domestic market, with a goal to add 7 million new U.S. subscribers in 2012. The midpoint of Hastings' guidance points to about 1.4 million new domestic subscribers in this quarter, which would work out to 25.3 million total. Merely hitting that target would make it "challenging" to meet the full-year goal. Netflix needs to outperform in this quarter or issue fantastic guidance for the year-ending holiday period. Ideally, it'll do both.
Walkers! Get down!
Many analysts, investors, and pundits worry themselves sick over two things:
Will Netflix be crushed by a rush of brand-new competition?
Is the company chasing international growth faster than it should?
To the first point, you'll see Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) presented as a head-to-head rival more often than not. The Redbox-branded joint venture between Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Coinstar (NASDAQ:OUTR) also shows up often. Other potential threats include TV specialist Hulu and even Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) video portal, YouTube.
Most of these supposed threats are mere mirages, though. None of these services really competes for the same entertainment dollar in Netflix's target demographics. Amazon comes close with its subscription-based Prime product, but the company isn't treating video streams as a real business. Redbox just might materialize in the Netflix sector, but all signs point to just another pay-per-view service. We'll know more when the product opens up to customers later this year.
As for international growth, I agree with Hastings that it would be a fatal mistake to leave more than 6 billion potential customers on the table. Holding your horses to protect the short-term bottom line would give local providers or global media rivals more time to capture hearts, minds, and wallets the world over. Netflix should go after overseas territories as fast as it can, and that's exactly what's happening.
Hastings opened the streaming doors across Scandinavia last week. I'm eager to hear more about the next international expansion -- what markets Netflix has in its sights, the profit or cash flow targets Netflix needs to hit before moving further, and when we should expect the next announcement.
Make no mistake -- Netflix will report horrible bottom-line earnings every quarter until the global growth hunger has been satisfied. Until then, we should expect nearly breakeven earnings but rapid subscriber growth. This week's report writes the next chapter in that long-term saga.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google and Netflix and has created a bull call spread on top of his Netflix shares. He holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out Anders' bio and holdings, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Amazon.com, and Netflix. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix, Amazon.com, Google, and Coinstar, as well as creating a bear put ladder position in Netflix. We Fools don't all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.