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Better Buy: The Walt Disney Company vs. Netflix

By Daniel Sparks - Feb 18, 2016 at 2:35PM

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Wondering which media company to buy? Both are great companies. But one is a better stock.

Both Walt Disney (DIS 1.84%) and Netflix (NFLX 2.90%) have been hit hard during this early 2016 market sell-off. Disney stock is down 9% and Netflix is down a more considerable 17%. Do these declining stock prices make either media company a buy? To judge which one could offer better value at these prices, let's compare them head-to-head.

In stark contrast to Netflix, Disney is a mature, highly profitable company. During the trailing twelve months, the media giant earned about $9 billion in net income on just $54 billion in sales, giving Disney a net profit margin of about 17%.

Image source: Disney.

But just because the company is mature doesn't mean it isn't still growing meaningfully. In fact, Disney is growing robustly. Its 9% year-over-year revenue growth in 2015 was actually above the company's five-year average revenue growth of 7%. And EPS was up even more sharply, rising 19% during the year.

During 2015, Disney benefited particularly from excellent performance in its Studio Entertainment segment. The company's fourth-quarter was particularly huge, with operating income in the segment soaring 86%, driven by Star Wars sales.

And Disney management appears to expect more growth ahead from this catalyst. Disney CEO Bob Iger said during the company's most recent earnings call that its intellectual property cycle remains robust and is still growing.

[W]e've got an incredible pipeline ... of Pixar and Disney animated films, and Disney live action. We also know that those films drive a lot of business across Parks and Resorts and Consumer Products. So I would say that the Studio will continue to provide more growth opportunities for the company, and that includes growth internationally ...

Netflix is a much smaller company, with annual revenue of about $7 billion compared to Disney's at $54 billion. But Netflix is also growing faster. Its sales were up 23% in the trailing-12-months compared to the year-ago period.

Image source: Netflix.

Netflix growth, however, comes at a cost. Its profitability suffers compared to Disney's as the streaming video company spends aggressively to capture growth opportunities and to scale its business. For instance, Netflix net profit margin, or the company's earnings as a percentage of sales, is just 1.8% for the trailing-12-month period. This is almost laughable compared to Disney's 17% net profit margin.

Where Netflix stands out, however, is its long-term growth potential. The company faces a range of catalysts for growth, including its January expansion to 130 countries, a possible expansion to China within the next few years, and a plan to release 600 hours or original programming in 2016, up from 450 hours in 2015. Meanwhile, the company is adding record members and plans to set another record in net member additions in Q1.

While Netflix may begin to seem as compelling as Disney stock -- or maybe even more so -- after considering its recent growth and its potential for growth ahead, Disney may ultimately be the winner after valuation is given the weight it deserves. Disney's price-to-sales ratio of just 2.9 compared to Netflix' at 5.7 makes the more profitable company look like the best bet over the long haul -- at least with Disney stock trading where it is today.

To be fair, however, while Netflix stock may be riskier for investors than Disney, Netflix could be the outperformer if the company executes well on its growth opportunities and proves it can successfully and meaningfully scale its business.

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Stocks Mentioned

Netflix, Inc. Stock Quote
Netflix, Inc.
$179.95 (2.90%) $5.08
The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
$96.14 (1.84%) $1.74

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