So many investors have tried to short Netflix, but the video services company's stock hasn't played along. To date, it's just kept going, and going -- up. But the defining moment for Netflix may be coming Monday afternoon, when the company reports second-quarter earnings.
Analysts expect Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) to report a profit of $1.11 per share on revenue of $791.5 million for the quarter, compared to earnings of 80 cents per share on earnings of $520 million for the same period one year ago.
Netflix is also expected to show that its subscriber base grew to between 25 and 26 million in the second quarter from 15 million in the same period one year ago. But it's not so much the company's earnings report that investors both bullish and short will be looking for, but forward guidance from the company.
Everybody wants to know about Netflix's prospects following the customer firestorm two weeks ago when the video streaming service provided announced a 60 percent price hike on unlimited streaming video and DVD-by-mail services. Thousands of customers said they would defect from Netflix over the move, and polls suggested as many as 10 to 20 percent of Netflix customers might unsubscribe from services.
Investors will be looking closely to see if Netflix gives further explanation as to why it raised prices so dramatically at once, and what the company thinks the impact will be. If it hints even that its bottom line will only improve, and that not as many customers are expected to defect as reports suggested, high-flying Netflix may continue along its forward-moving path.
If not, Netflix's stock may finally hit its bump in the road so many have been waiting for.
Wall Street was generally positive during the price increase firestorm as the company's stock increased slightly before settling at current levels. Netflix closed Friday at $276.58, not far off its 52-week high of $304.79. But Netflix is trading at 44 times forward earnings if numbers come in as expected, and 48 times cash flow -- big premiums in the current market.
That's why so many people have tried shorting Netflix.
Earlier this year, Netflix was sold short by hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, who eventually bought back the position at a loss as Netflix's stock kept climbing ahead. In less than one year, Netflix has advanced from $100 per share in August, 2010, to nearly $300 per share today. That's a triple bagger for bulls, and a losing proposition to date for shorts.
Still, Netflix has more than 9 million shares sold short out of its 52.5 million shares outstanding -- a 2.50 short ratio. But that's down slightly from the short ratio the previous month, meaning some have simply given up on the strategy.
Many betting against Netflix's stock, including Tilson, have been positive about Netflix's business model, but they simply think the market is over effusive in its buying praise. But the fact that Netflix did not give way during the price hike backlash indicates the bulls believe Netflix's strategy to expand globally, while moving out of the dated, less-profitable DVD-by-mail business, is a winner.
But the company's second-quarter earnings report due Monday afternoon will likely have impact, one way or another. If revenue beats expectations, but forward guidance is weak, the market may react in the favor of shorts. But if revenue beats expectations and guidance is strong, the shorts may lose again.