Editor's Choice

This Company Deserves to Trade in Line With Amazon

Meena is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) has been in a downward spiral since its 2011 all-time high of almost $300 a share. A recent upswing, which has helped push the stock up 60% over the last three months, comes from activist investor Carl Icahn. Icahn announced a 10% stake in the video streaming company a few months ago, and investors have been expecting a range of bullish scenarios since. Most are now hoping for more efficient operations or a possible sale of the company to a synergistic buyer, such as Amazon or Microsoft. Billionaire Eddie Lampert also followed Icahn's lead by adding Netflix to his portfolio during 3Q (check out Eddie Lampert's latest picks).

The concerns for the company, besides increased competition, are continued losses in international markets. Pressured earnings continue to be a result of high expansion costs, which are mostly related to marketing and content acquisition. Now, new streaming content should be a long-term positive for Netflix, as it continues to push its churn rate down, while also attracting new subscribers. Netflix moved into Canada in 2010 and pushed its total footprint in Latin America to over forty countries, with recent expansion including Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

Netflix's recent quarterly results showed that its subscriber base was up dramatically. As of 3Q, Netflix boasted 31.8 million unique subscribers, up from 25 million year over year. International subscriber addition also continued, up to 4.3 million from 1.5 million one year earlier - nearly threefold. The video streaming company was able to boost its paid-to-total subscriber base from 67% in 3Q 2011 to 86% last quarter in the international segment. We believe that international operations will continue to be a drain on earnings in the interim, but this will be the driving force behind Netflix's 20%+ long-term EPS growth rate, which is expected by the majority of sell-side analysts.

The valuation on Netflix may also cause concern for some investors, trading with a forward P/E of 220x. Netflix trades at only 1.5x sales, though, compared to other high-growth tech stock Amazon (2.0x). The video streaming company also enjoys impressive margins, with a 70% gross margin, compared to Amazon's 25%, and satellite companies like Dish Network and DirecTV, which are both near 40%. Assuming investors can overlook the interim uncertainty of Netflix's cost structure due to its efforts overseas, Netflix should be afforded the luxury of trading in line with Amazon on a top line basis. Based on this fiscal year's sales estimates, shares of NFLX should easily trade at $130 per share, far above its current stock price of $95.

Coinstar (NASDAQ: OUTR) competes with Netflix through its RedBox segment. The retail service provider does trade on the cheap side at 10x forward earnings, and has solid growth potential with its possible expansion into online streaming. If executed effectively, this will be a key driver in helping Coinstar meet its expected 5-year earnings growth rate of 17%. We do remain skeptical that Coinstar will be able to fend off rising stars - Hulu and Verizon's streaming service - as easily as Netflix, though. Other investors appear to share similar sentiment, as Coinstar has a whopping 38% short interest.

Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN), meanwhile, also has a scary high forward P/E at 140x. Although Amazon's streaming video service is in competition with Netflix, we see Netflix's initiatives for rapid international expansion to be a leg-up, so to speak.

Briefly mentioned above, Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) and DIRECTV (NASDAQ: DTV) are two companies looking to compete with Netflix by offering streaming video via satellite services. Other than the two competing against each other for subscribers, they are also seeing Netflix and Hulu replace the need for conventional TV subscription services. Both companies enjoy gross margins in excess of 40%, but that's where the similarities end. Dish has some of the poorest expected growth in the industry - at a 2% 5-year EPS CAGR - and also trades above DirecTV from a valuation perspective. Interestingly, George Soros is still one of Dish's top investors (check out George Soros' latest bets).

Competitor DirecTV trades at a forward P/E of 10x, where Dish is at 15x. Dish's weakness in subscribers also continues to plague the company. Last quarter, Dish saw its churn rate jump from 1.35% to 1.6% (qoq). Meanwhile, DirecTV saw an increase from 1.44% to only 1.53% over this same time. Warren Buffett loves DirecTV, and owns nearly 30 million shares while having 2% of his 13F invested in the satellite company (see Warren Buffett's new picks).

To recap: Netflix has a solid head start in the video streaming industry, and has already embarked on the big task of entering the international market. This has led to higher than expected costs, but should more than compensate in the long-term with added revenues. Another possibility is that at a $5 billion market cap, a larger tech company could snatch up its operations.

This article is written by Marshall Hargrave and edited by Jake Mann. They don't own shares in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com and Netflix. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Amazon.com and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

blog comments powered by Disqus