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Netflix: A Tale of Two Analysts

Rick Munarriz, The Motley Fool

Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) will be one of the first dot-com bellwethers to chime in when earnings season kicks off next week, and Wall Street pros are already placing bets. The leading premium streaming service reports shortly after Monday's market close, but don't go thinking that everyone is bullish on the stock that has more than doubled this year

Scott Devitt at Stifel boosted his price target from $345 to $406 on Wednesday, but since the stock is already trading well above that mark -- it closed at $415.63 on Tuesday -- we can't call Devitt bullish. He's sticking to his hold rating on the shares. Devitt is boosting his long-term target for domestic subscriber growth, but he feels the rallying stock has already priced in a blowout showing in next week's financial update. 

Then we find Michael Pachter at Wedbush continuing to be a permabear on Netflix. He wasn't impressed by the content slate on the platform during the second quarter, setting the stage for subscriber softness. Pachter's bearish point about Netflix burning through cash despite several price hikes over the past five years is reasonable, but when he suggests that growth and engagement are waning he's setting himself up as a contrarian. He's sticking to the underperform rating that has burned him in recent years, and his $125 price target implies that the stock will shed 70% of its value. 

The cast of Fuller House in a convertible.

Image source: Netflix.

Making a move

Netflix stock is a volatile beast following its quarterly reports, and things shouldn't be any different come Monday afternoon. We know that Wedbush's Pachter keeps betting on a sell-off, and while over time he's been more than a little wrong, there have been a few dud quarters in Netflix's otherwise masterful tear over the past few years. It would naturally take more than one bad report to send the market darling's stock lower by more than two-thirds of its value.

Stifel's Devitt note is interesting in that it beefs up stateside growth. International growth has been the key driver at Netflix in recent reports, as overseas markets offer more upside than the mature market closer to home. Total international subscribers surpassed total domestic streaming accounts in Netflix's latest quarter, and that's not going to change anytime soon. However, Devitt now sees Netflix adding more than 5 million domestic subs annually through at least 2020. He sees Netflix's U.S. streaming base at 85 million, up from the nearly 57 million stateside accounts it was servicing at the end of March. 

Devitt is neutral on the stock, so it's not as if he's a sharp contrast to Pachter leading the bear charge. However, boosting his price target by 18% less than a week before the report -- just below where the stock is now -- is at least an encouraging sign for Netflix bulls. Devitt doesn't want to be caught with a price target at $345 if the stock rallies, and it wouldn't be a surprise if other analysts tweak their price goals ahead of Monday afternoon's highly anticipated report. 

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.