Netflix Stock Hits 52-Week High

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Netflix shares hit a 52-week high in early trading Thursday as investors bid up the stock following a better-than-expected earnings report after the market close Wednesday.

The stock had risen about 25 percent-plus in Wednesday after-hours, but it jumped even more early on Thursday. As of 12:45 a.m. ET, it was up 38 percent at $142.02 after earlier going as high as $149.17. Netflix's previous 52-week high was $133.43. On Wednesday, it had closed at $103.26.

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The gains came amid continuing Wall Street debate about whether investors should buy, hold or maybe even sell Netflix's stock.

Many analysts increased their earnings estimates for Netflix early Thursday, and Lazard Capital Markets analyst Barton Crockett even upgraded the stock from "neutral" to "buy." He also set a new $200 price target, "up 45 percent from levels indicated post close Wednesday." But not everyone predicts further gains.
 
"Metrics say the story will work globally," the headline of Crockett's bullish report said.

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He highlighted that financials looked "very solid globally, while new originals look poised to drive a dramatic step up in content visibility in 2013." He added, "This swings the presumption from skepticism to optimism that Netflix can generate strong profit growth domestically and repeat this around the world."

Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente raised his price target on Netflix's stock from $80 to $120. "Netflix posted impressive fourth-quarter results that came in ahead of our estimates across nearly all metrics, most notably domestic streaming net additions and contribution profit," he wrote.

But he was mixed on the outlook for original series on Netflix. "We believe the launch of original programs, including House of Cards on Feb. 1 and Arrested Development in May, will drive modest upside to net subscriber additions in the first half of the year," DiClemente said. "However, we believe subscriber growth could be more challenging in the back half once the novelty of the new programming wears off and the pace of content acquisition slows."

Meanwhile, Credit Suisse analyst Stephen Ju raised his price target from $80 to $132, but downgraded the stock from "outperform" to "neutral," citing the higher stock price.

"Even as we model in increased domestic and international subscriber growth estimates with the resulting faster ramp in profitability in the near-to-medium term, Netflix shares are now trading in-line with our updated price target of $132," he argued.

And Cowen and Co. analyst John Blackledge increased his financial estimates, but maintained his "neutral" rating on the stock, even though he signaled he could revise that over time.

Meanwhile, Carl Icahn, the activist investor and billionaire who holds a 10 percent stake in Netflix, told Bloomberg News that he sees further upside for Netflix's stock. “We still own every share we bought, and we believe it’s still got tremendous potential," he said.

Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who has been bearish on Netflix, said the Icahn comments worried him. "I'm not sure what he's looking for as an exit point," he wrote. "Clearly I would recommend selling today."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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