It's show time for Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). The world's leading premium streaming platform posts quarterly results after Monday's market close, and things could get ugly. The stock got slammed three months ago, when its subscriber metrics for the second quarter disappointed the market, and the third quarter could be even more challenging.
Investors don't seem to be in a hurry to exit the market darling that was the top-performing member of the S&P 500 in 2013 and 2015. The stock moved higher on Thursday and Friday, despite the potentially problematic quarterly report that waits at the end of Monday's trading day.
There will probably be some skittishness in the stock on Monday ahead of the report. Let's go over some of the reasons investors may bail on the stock, but then let's cover a big reason it could pay off to hold on.
1. Wall Street pros are hedging their bets
Analysts have been cooling on the stock leading into tomorrow's report. J.P. Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth was the latest to step up, lowering his price target on the stock from $125 to $122 on Friday. He's still bullish, and the reasons for tempering his price target involve events beyond what Netflix may announce on Monday afternoon. Anmuth is adjusting his forecast for 2017 to justify the move. However, it can't be mere coincidence that he's lowering his price target a trading day before the report.
Anmuth isn't alone. Deutsche Bank initiated coverage with a "sell" rating earlier in the week. That was followed by UBS analyst Doug Mitchelson, who stuck to his "neutral" rating on the stock, concerned about the maturing of Netflix app downloads in North America.
Not everyone is getting cold feet. Pacific Crest and Morgan Stanley issued more upbeat analyst notes last week. However, both of those analysts still conceded that subscriber gains during the third quarter probably fell short of expectations. Too many Wall Street pros are pointing to a weak third quarter to ignore at this point.
2. Domestic net additions will likely miss guidance
Netflix's outlook for the third quarter calls for the service to close out the period with 300,000 more stateside subscribers than it had at the end of June. Most of the 2.3 million net additions Netflix was targeting for the quarter will be coming from overseas.
The reality will probably be worse than that. Netflix initiated its outlook in mid-July, before the summer Olympics sucked away viewers and -- more importantly -- before longtime subscribers paying $7.99 or $8.99 a month were pushed up to the current rate of $9.99.
Churn was expected to inch higher once longtime subscribers didn't have a financial incentive to stick around at lower monthly rates, but even 300,000 may have been too ambitious. A big data analytics specialist suggested that Netflix will close out its third quarter with as many domestic members as it had when the period began. Flat sequential growth in net subscribers would be brutal, especially since the stock suffered a double-digit percentage decline after falling short three months earlier. Netflix rarely misses on what had previously been conservative guidance. Falling short in back-to-back quarters would turn the market darling into a market dud.
3. The buyout premium could air out
A big reason for the stock's move higher since Netflix's rough second quarter is that there's growing chatter that a tech or media giant could snap up the popular operator of the leading digital television platform. There's a lot of helium in that markup. The stock has soared 18% since the day after the company posted its unsettling second-quarter results.
If Netflix's fundamentals continue to come undone in Monday's report, it would nip a lot of the buyout buzz in the bud. Companies that would be diluting their bottom-line results in acquiring Netflix would be less likely to do so for a stock that's out of favor, adding insult to injury following a bad report.
The best reason to hold or even buy Netflix on Monday
Bearish analysts, a likely miss in domestic subscriber growth, and a buyout bubble floating to a sharp needle seem like big reasons to avoid Netflix with a single trading day left to get out ahead of the potential deluge. However, it's also just as easy to argue that a lot of this "perfect storm" will pass.
Even flat domestic subscriber growth may be seen as a success, given the unique circumstances of the third quarter. The same scenario won't exist in the fourth quarter and beyond, so it will be easy for Netflix to dismiss what could be a horrendous third quarter as a fluke.
Everyone is expecting a bad quarter, and it's also possible that the market has discounted a choppy August. A rough second quarter shocked the market, but that won't be the case this time around. Netflix's guidance will be critical, and the company's historical ability to bounce back quickly after it's been written off continues to make a it a winner in the long run.