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All Contents © 2017The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By James Brumley
| November 2016
There’s no denying Netflix, Inc. (NFLX) has been one of the hottest stories of the past decade. Not only did the company create and then dominate a whole new category of consumer services, NFLX stock has gained nearly 3,000% over the course of the past ten years.
As they say though, nothing lasts forever. While Netflix had the early advantage of having no peers and therefore didn’t face any cost-control questions from owners of NFLX shares, now — with alternatives and competition popping up left and right — many of the company’s past missteps are coming back to haunt it.
Indeed, there are three headwinds that could soon collectively overwhelm Netflix, meaning now would be a great time to lock in any profits you may have yet to book on Netflix stock.
While Netflix has the same basic hurdles and solutions most other companies process on a fairly regular basis, there are three specific problems CEO Reed Hastings isn’t going to be able to readily resolve. They may well knock NFLX stock off of its perch on a permanent basis.
In no certain order…
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Chris via Flickr
The matter of net neutrality surfaced and then abated months ago, with the consensus mostly being that the telecom companies connecting consumers to the internet wouldn’t dictate what those consumers downloaded by encouraging connections to some digital content and discouraging connections to other online content.
Now, however, the matter has come back to the forefront.
Two of Donald Trump’s key appointments are in favor of giving internet service providers the right to be biased in the digital content they deliver. Mark Jamison, a former lobbyist for Sprint Corp (S), and Jeffrey Eisenach, previously a consultant for Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), are part of Trump’s transition team.
Eisenach has made it clear in the past that he doesn’t think it’s necessary to peg internet connectivity as a public utility.
Even without Jamison and Eisenach steering the ship, however, NFLX shares were and still are ultimately threatened by internet service providers that are also getting into the streaming video game with their own content, and offering packages and/or not counting their own content service towards a customer’s data cap. Netflix only has one product, and therefore nothing to bundle. Speaking of…
Even if Netflix wasn’t going to face a net-neutrality issue in the foreseeable future, it’s still dealing with viable competition that it has not had to fend off until very recently.
To be fair, Hulu has been around for a while, and has yet to take a big bite out of Netflix’s business. That’s changing though. The rival is getting bigger, and better, and now offers a choice of packages that are more subscription-fee-based or more ad-supported. In the meantime, SlingTV from DISH Network Corp. (DISH) and Vue from Sony Corp. (SNE) continue to blur the lines between on-demand television and cable television access to network broadcasts, once again offering consumers something Netflix doesn’t.
And just last week, Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) announced it was going to introduce its Prime video service to 200 worldwide markets beginning in December, taking dead aim at the one big growth arena Netflix stock holders were hoping the company would have all to its own.
Finally, while the market may have been forgiving of Netflix’s spendthrift ways early on, most NFLX investors were likely expecting that heavy cash outlays would abate relative to revenue. They haven’t. If anything, they’ve gotten worse.
As of the most recently completed quarter, total liabilities grew 27% on a year-over-year basis, from $7.7 billion to $9.8 billion. That growth slightly outpaced the 26% year-over-year improvement in revenue, but given that Netflix is scaling up, it should be reducing relative expenses.
Worse, total liabilities now stand at $14.4 billion; much of that total doesn’t appear on the balance sheet. Throw in the fact that last quarter’s negative free cash flow of $506 million more than doubled year-over-year, and owners of NFLX shares have a right to be concerned the company can only grow when it’s spending even bigger.
Adrian Black via Flickr
To be clear, Netflix isn’t going to be forced into oblivion. Things are about to get real tough for the company, however, as time and competition has finally caught up with the organization.
That’s going to materialize in the form of a headwind for NFLX stock, as the market is forced to reprice NFLX shares as a value stock rather than a growth stock.
Indeed, the headwind could become particularly brutal early on, as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings learns how to do more with less.
This article is from James Brumley of InvestorPlace. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the securities discussed.
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