Analyst Upgrades Netflix Stock to 'Neutral,' Citing Hollywood's Dependence

Netflix - Sign - 2011
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Tony Wible sees continued challenges for the streaming service, but says "many are becoming more dependent on Netflix revenues despite the potential harm."

?A long-time Netflix bear has turned slightly more positive on the streaming video provider's stock amid recent weakness. ??He cited Hollywood's dependence on Netflix's pay checks and reduced concerns about content costs on a list of factors that he argued would mitigate downward risk for the stock over the near term.??

Tony Wible, analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott, on Monday upgraded his rating on Netflix shares from "sell" to "neutral," lowering his fair value estimate on the stock to $67 from $70.?? "Lower Price, Lower Fair Value, Lower Expectations," the headline of his report said.

??"Since its recent peak at $129 in early February, Netflix is down significantly and has been trading below our prior fair value for several weeks," Wible wrote. "We are upgrading Netflix to neutral as we believe the risk/reward is more balanced after the recent sell-off and downward estimate revisions [on Wall Street]."

??But he also emphasized: "We are not changing our views on the longer-term outlook for the company tied to a slowdown in sub growth and the cannibalization of the high-margin DVD business. However, this is tempered in the near term by studio dependency [on Netflix], lack of competition, slower decline in DVD...and cost rationalization."??

On the issue of "studio addiction," as he also called it, Wible said that "many are becoming more dependent on Netflix revenues despite the potential harm to their core business." ??Specifically, he argued that "lower [TV] ratings are in part tied to Netflix, [which] hurt ad revenue (as seen in the recent upfront) and will make some studios even more dependent on Netflix." ??

Wible in the past cited Netflix's rising cash needs for streaming content rights as a risk for the stock. "We believe Netflix can meet its commitments in 2012 without raising additional capital," he wrote on Monday though. "Cash flow pressure may have peaked in the first quarter and will decline as the company rationalizes near term content spend."?? He estimated that Netflix would need to lose 10.7 million-plus of its average total streaming subscriber base to deplete its cash balance.??

Wible also addressed the issue of new competitors in Monday's report, arguing that Comcast’s StreamPix service, a Redbox-Verizon streaming venture and a potential future Apple product would not have an impact until next year. "We see competition and/or early maturity as the key factors for revisiting our "sell" rating, while greater earnings leverage and a dearth of competitors could lead us to be more optimistic," he said.


?Twitter: @georgszalai