Netflix replays the momentum rally

Jeff Macke

The S&P 500 (^GSPC) is making all-time highs but most investors are badly lagging this year. Even the revival of the cult of Apple (AAPL) stock has only brought bulls back to within about 10% of the $700 peak price of 2012.

Those intrepid few counterintuitive enough to buy back into Netflix (NFLX) in early May are the exception. Shares of the controversial streaming service have ripped more than 30% higher in the last month, more than 3-fold the gains seen in other former momentum darling like Facebook (FB) and 6x the return the market as a whole.

Joe Fahmy of Zor Capital says underperforming fund managers are gravitating back to mega-cap tech companies of relative maturity for the illusion of safety they offer. Companies like Priceline (PCLN), Apple and Netflix may not have the endless upside potential associated with bubble-era rallies of the past, but the risks are understood.

Netflix has a mountain of problems in terms of paying for bandwidth and high-profile fights with Verizon (VZ) but it’s relatively known and it has what investors call beta. Beta is a measure of how far a stock has moved relative to the market has a whole. With a beta of 2.2, Netflix shares have moved with more than twice the veloctity of the market.

For a fund manager, that makes the stock a way to play the momentum of the market without having to resort to options of levered ETFs. Buying Netflix is relatively defensible while outright betting on stock market direction is still frowned upon by institutions.

Defensible isn’t the same as smart. In fact the general consensus that stocks like Netflix and Apple are death-traps for short sellers is the most bearish possible indicator. As Fahmy says in the attached video such gushing enthusiasm has often marked near term tops in the past but there’s no telling how long the love affair will continue before it runs out of steam.

Sometimes there isn’t a trade but just a series of observations. Right now it seems late to buy momentum stocks but too early to sell. The best plan of action in such situations might be hitting the beach.

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