October 17, 2018 / 11:11 AM / a month ago

Netflix shares jump as Wall Street applauds record subscriber growth

(Reuters) - Shares of Netflix Inc soared 11 percent before the bell on Wednesday, after the company put fears of a slowdown in growth to bed by racking up seven million new subscribers between July and September.

The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

The video streaming pioneer shocked Wall Street last quarter by falling short of new subscriber estimates, but Tuesday’s figures put its total customer base at 137 million worldwide, two million more than consensus forecasts.

At least 15 brokerages raised price targets on the stock, with Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Raymond James, raising them just two days after trimming.

“We don’t believe in ‘open-ended growth stories.’ But, darn, (Netflix) is about as close to one as you can find in today’s market,” RBC analyst Mark Mahaney said in a note.

Goldman Sachs raised its price target by $50 to $480. The brokerage had earlier cut the price target to $430 from $470.

Netflix shares have gained about 81 percent this year and are worth six times what they were at the start of 2015, a reflection of the overwhelming faith investors have in the company’s lead in video streaming.

Some have begun to question, however, whether Netflix’s business model is as durable as the share price action suggests, given the huge investments the company has begun to make in its own content, and burgeoning competition.

Analysts from U.S. financial group Keybanc downgraded their rating on Netflix to “sector weight” from “overweight”, questioning whether the company was capable of improving investment returns and margins in years to come.

Shares of the company were up 10 percent at $381.21 before the bell.

BIGGER PROFILE IN INDIA

The company exceeded forecasts in both U.S. and international markets but the bulk of the new subscribers came from outside the United States, where the company has been investing aggressively.

Analysts pointed to “solid trends” in India, where the success of homegrown shows like Sacred Games and Ghoul have helped raise its profile and hopes for future growth in the developing world’s most populous markets.

“(Netflix) shies away from talking about any one international market too specifically, but it called out growth in Asia, and we believe India is becoming a bigger factor,” said JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth.

“Traction in India for Sacred Games has been strong, along with additional local content Lust Stories, & Ghoul,” he added.

Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter was another skeptic, saying he was “mystified by the investor love affair with Netflix’s India opportunity”, pointing to price differences in Netflix’s monthly plans versus cable TV in the country.

“We find it fascinating that investors expect Indian households to spend more on Netflix than they spend on cable TV or cell phones, and to spend nearly as much as they spend on broadband,” Pachter said.

Reporting by Akanksha Rana and Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham, Bernard Orr

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