Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) stock has been one of the most profitable names in the market -- shares of the online streaming leader are up a staggering 530% over the last five years, and they have already gained another 98% year-to-date. This puts the share price near historical highs in the neighborhood of $675.
Past performance can say a lot about a business, but investment decisions need to be based on forward-looking considerations. The main question at this stage is whether Netflix still offers enough room for gains from current levels or if the best is already over for investors in the company.
The analysts at BTIG Research are definitely in the bullish camp, as the company recently released a report with an optimistic view of the business and an aggressive price target of $950 per share. Since Netflix recently announced a 7-for-1 stock split effective July 15th, this would mean a post-split price target of approximately $136. In any case, this would mean significant upside potential of more than 40% from current price levels.
Netflix is outperforming at home
Several research analysts have recently upgraded their Netflix valuation targets, in most cases on the back of accelerating international expansion. Netflix is planning to grow its presence from about 50 countries to 200 by 2017, so international markets should be a major growth driver for the company over the next few years.
However, BTIG Research believes the company still has considerable room for expansion even in the U.S., and this is one of the main factors behind the increased price target. As of the first quarter of 2015, Netflix has 41.4 million members in the U.S., and BTIG Research estimates the company can grow well beyond 50 million.
Netflix gained 2.3 million new U.S. members in the last quarter, considerably above Wall Street expectations and also much higher than management's own guidance for 1.8 million additions. Interestingly, the figure represents an accelerated growth rate over the 2.25 million new U.S. members signed in the year-ago quarter.
When asked about the reasons for this stronger than expected growth, management said in the conference call that the company has focused on key areas like content quality, improving the streaming service, and building the user interface.
Netflix also offered promising new content during the last quarter, including Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, House of Cards, and Bloodline, and this seems to be yielding better results than most analysts anticipated.
Management has long said that Netflix aims to reach between 60 million and 90 million U.S. subscribers over the long-term. While this is certainly an ambitious target, it does not sound impossible given the company's track record.
Can Netflix go to $950?
The U.S. market has been outperforming, a major boon for profitability since Netflix makes most of its profits in the U.S. The company believes it is well on track to a contribution margin in the area of 40% in this market by 2020.
On the other hand, international markets will be the key growth driver for Netflix in the years to come. According to CEO Reed Hastings, most global Internet firms make only 20% to 35% of revenues from the U.S., but Netflix is still generating almost 70% of sales at home, so the business has enormous room for growth abroad.
Netflix recently entered Australia and New Zealand, and the company is planning to expand into Italy, Portugal, and Spain in October. According to press reports, the company is working with a local agency in Japan to expand into that market sooner rather than later, and there have been rumors that the company is seeking local partners to venture into China as well.
BTIG calculates that Netflix could reach over 108 million global streaming members by 2017, and the global base could reach 140 million subscribers by 2020, with 80 million of those subscribers coming from international markets.
That is a considerable increase over its 62.3 million global members as of the last quarter, but it is not implausible considering the aggressive push into new markets.
Based on these assumptions, the research firm estimates that Netflix could make $1.15 billion in EBITDA and $6.70 in earnings per share by 2017, which yields a price target of $950 for the stock.
A lot of things need to happen for this forecast to turn out to be accurate, and stock prices cannot be predicted with precision, so only time will tell for sure if Netflix can climb by 40% in the next 12 months. One thing looks clear though: Netflix is positioned for explosive growth in the coming years, and this bodes remarkably well for investors in the company.