The Ratings Game: Netflix stock keeps falling after ‘sell’ call from Wall Street’s most bearish analyst

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Shares of Netflix Inc. extended on Tuesday their recent sharp selloff, after Benchmark analyst Matthew Harrigan turned bearish on the streaming giant, and set a new price target that was the lowest on Wall Street.

The stock
NFLX,
-0.44%

fell 1.3% in premarket trading, after tumbling 16.3% amid a three-day losing streak through Monday. The stock had closed Monday 2.0% above the May 11 five-year closing low of $166.37.

Harrigan said he reverted back to a sell rating, “admittedly after having prematurely upgraded the stock to hold” on Jan. 21. He set a $157 stock price target, which was the lowest of 44 analysts surveyed by FactSet.

In the Jan. 21 upgrade, which followed disappointing fourth-quarter results and outlook that prompted a 21.8% tumble in the stock, the long-time bear said the stock’s selloff was “overcooked.”

He kept his rating at hold, after the stock plummeted 35.1% on April 20 after first-quarter results, in which Netflix said it lost subscribers for the first time in years, said it would offer a lower-price subscription tier and crack down on password sharing.

FactSet, MarketWatch

In Tuesday’s downgrade, Harrigan said he is “skeptical on any sustained Netflix stock recovery,” despite calls by other analysts that valuation is attractive following the stock’s plunge this year.

“Beyond the inflation-challenged and more price-sensitive consumer, the continued negative Netflix press glut, relating to member losses and even Prince Harry and Meghan, is a mild growth albatross,” Harrigan wrote in a note to clients.

His mention of Prince Harry and Meghan refers to reports that Netflix was upset that the couple failed to get pictures with Queen Elizabeth II during the Platinum Jubilee, following Netflix’s approval of the couple’s at-home docuseries. Also, Netflix had canceled in May the development of Meghan Markle’s animated series “Pearl” due to cost cutting.

“The market is now very jaded on streaming valuations and Netflix stock could be pressured if member growth and operating profit margin stall out in tandem,” Harrigan wrote. “Restraining cash programming spend may be difficult in the mature but increasingly competitive U.S. market, even as growth investments are necessary in Asia and other markets.”

Harrigan is one of the six of 44 analysts surveyed by FactSet that have the equivalent of sell ratings on Netflix. There are 12 analysts with the equivalent of buy ratings and now 26 who are neutral on Netflix. The average stock price target is $297.54, which implies 75% upside from Monday’s closing price of $169.69. Harrigan’s price target is 47% below the Wall Street average.

FactSet

Meanwhile, Harrigan said Netflix’s disclosure late Monday that Ken Barker would assume the role of principal accounting officer from Chief Financial Officer Spencer Neumann is likely “harmless.” Although Barker arrives from videogame developer Electronic Arts Inc., Harrigan doesn’t believe his appointment as PAO is attributable to Netflix’s gaming ambitions.

Netflix’s stock has plunged 71.8% this year through Monday, enough to make it the biggest year-to-date decliner among S&P 500 index
SPX,
+0.23%

components. The S&P 500 has dropped 21.3% this year.

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