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Netflix's weak subscriber additions at odds with lofty valuation

REUTERS - Investors questioned Netflix Inc's premium valuation after the video-streaming service reported U.S. subscriber additions below its own expectations, a sign that competition from the likes of Hulu is intensifying.

Netflix shares fell more than 9 percent to $100.11 in early trading on Thursday.

While Netflix blamed the disappointing numbers on the mandated transition to chip-based debit and credit cards, some analysts said the reason seemed unconvincing since these cards have been around for a while.

"The Netflix excuse is laughable," said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, who is rated four stars on a scale of five on StarMine for the accuracy of earnings estimates of Netflix.

Pachter is the most bearish analyst on the stock with an "underperform" rating and a price target of $40.

"Credit cards expire all the time, and people know how to deal with it. Netflix is seeing declining demand, and churn is a part of that," he said.

Netflix doesn't disclose churn or subscriber attrition numbers.

The video-streaming service provider had forecast a net addition of 1.15 million subscribers in its home market in the quarter, but ended up with just 880,000.

"Our concern on NFLX shares considers valuation in the context of increased video competition, as content owners work more hand-in-hand with (over-the-top) providers," Evercore analyst Ken Sena wrote in a note.

Sena has a "sell" rating on Netflix's stock and a $69 price target.

The company has wooed fans with original shows such as "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards", but faces stiff competition from Hulu, a smaller but increasingly popular streaming service.

Hulu has managed to win away lucrative film franchises from Netflix including "Hunger Games" and "Transformers".

As well, Amazon.com Inc, which rebranded its streaming service as Prime Instant Video, has shaken things up with shows such as "Transparent."

While Netflix's international net subscriber additions was better than its forecast, some analysts said the beat was driven by free subscribers, which may not translate into paid subscriptions.

Still, analysts' remained largely upbeat about the long-term prospects of the company.

Netflix's stock has more than doubled this year. It trades at 356.6 times forward 12 month earnings, versus a peer median of 12.9.

At least seven brokerages raised their price targets on the high-flying stock. Three, including Credit Suisse, cut their targets. J.P. Morgan analysts were the most bullish, boosting their target to $137 from $127.

(Reporting by Lehar Mann, Devika Krishna Kumar and Abhirup Roy in Bengaluru; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)