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Netflix must blow away these numbers when it reports earnings

·Anchor, Editor-at-Large
·3 min read
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Netflix shares have been treading water all year long as Wall Street frets about the company's growth rates post-pandemic.

And if the streaming giant doesn't easily surpass its second quarter net additions guidance of 1 million and signal a robust second half in new subscriber growth when it reports earnings on Thursday, the stock is unlikely to emerge from said pool of water. 

In fact, the stock could come under more pressure even if it beats on second quarter net additions given currently elevated numbers on the key metric. 

"Our analysis of global downloads suggests 2Q net adds of ~2M — up from the previous 1.6M, which was based on data through June 10 — we believe driven by strong content in the back half of June including 'Fatherhood,' 'Manifest,' and 'The Ice Road.' The data suggests upside to our 1.2M net adds estimate for 2Q, and slightly above broader investor expectations of 1.50M-1.75M based on recent discussions, but it is still small on an absolute basis, especially on a base of 200M+ subscribers," J.P. Morgan Doug Anmuth wrote in a research note ahead of the results. 

Anmuth — and most other sell-side analysts on the Street — are banking on a re-acceleration in Netflix's new subscriber growth later this year amid a host of new content. Important releases include "The Kissing Booth 3" (August 11 debut), "Money Heist" Season 5 (Volume 1: Sept. 3 debut & Volume 2: Dec. 3 debut), "Sex Education" Season 3 (Sept. 17 debut), and "The Witcher" Season 2 (Dec. 17 debut).

SPAIN - 2021/07/13: In this photo illustration a close-up of a hand holding a TV remote control seen displayed in front of the Netflix logo. (Photo Illustration by Thiago Prudencio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SPAIN - 2021/07/13: In this photo illustration a close-up of a hand holding a TV remote control seen displayed in front of the Netflix logo. (Photo Illustration by Thiago Prudencio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Wall Street will look for clues on that possibly happening within the company's third quarter guidance this week.

"Though 2Q expectations are low following 2020 pull-forward, a lighter content slate, reopening, and typical 2Q seasonality, we expect the content slate to improve materially throughout the back half of 2021 and investors will be squarely focused on the 2H net adds outlook. We are modeling 14.25M net adds in 2H21, with year-over-year growth in both 3Q (5.25M) and 4Q (9.0M). We do believe 2H content is more heavily weighted to 4Q and it's a seasonally stronger quarter. Therefore, even though Netflix will not guide to 4Q, we believe it's important for management to talk about the full six-month slate and overall confidence in the back half," explained Anmuth.

To be sure, angst is high on the Street on Netflix given how the first quarter played out. 

First quarter paid subscriber additions came in at 3.98 million, missing analyst estimates for 6.29 million. The company blamed the lack of compelling new content, 

The company forecast second quarter sales growth of 18.8%, sharply lower than the 24.2% seen in the first quarter. Operating margins are pegged at 25.5%, down from a record 27.4% in the first quarter.

Netflix shares are down 3% since the company reported first quarter results on April 20, lagging the Nasdaq's 1.5% gain. 

"Given the seasonally small net add numbers in 2Q (~0.5% of total subs), we don't expect a beat or miss will be that important to investors and expect 3Q guidance (Street at 5.9mn and BofA at 6mn) will tell us more on whether or not Netflix can get back to its pre-COVID 25mn+ net sub adds/year trend. We look to 2H big content launches (e.g. 'Stranger Things' and 'The Witcher') to be drivers of sub growth over the next year," Bank of America analyst Nat Schindler said in a note on Monday. 

Or so hopes the Street.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.