In mid-December, we published a lengthy article on why Netflix was our largest bearish bet at the time. With the stock up nearly 25% since then, one might assume that we’d think it’s an even better short today, but in fact we have closed out our position because we are no longer confident that our investment thesis is correct.
1) The company reported a very strong quarter that weakened key pillars of our investment thesis, especially as it relates to margins;
2) We conducted a survey, completed by more than 500 Netflix subscribers, that showed significantly higher satisfaction with and usage of Netflix’s streaming service than we anticipated (the results of our survey are in Appendix A, attached); and
3) Our article generated a great deal of feedback, including an open letter from Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, some of which caused us to question a number of our assumptions.
In summary, while we acknowledged in our December article that Netflix “offers a useful, attractivelypriced service to customers, is growing like wildfire, is very well managed, and has a strong balance sheet,” we now believe that it is an even better business than we gave it credit for. The company has enormous momentum and substantial optionality (for example, international growth), and management is executing superbly. In particular, we tip our hat to Reed Hastings, whom we had the pleasure of meeting last weekend. In addition to his success building the business and navigating the transition from DVD-by-mail to streaming media, he’s also one of the most down-to-earth, honest and straightforward CEOs we’ve ever encountered.
To be clear, in covering our short and writing favorable things about Netflix in this article, we are not recommending purchase of the stock. Many things will have to go very right for the company to justify its current market valuation, but we no longer think it’s wise to bet against Netflix.
This is particularly true in light of our belief that this market is filled with much better short opportunities that are in our sweet spot: outright frauds (our very favorite), industries in decline or facing major headwinds, weak or faddish business models, bad balance sheets, and incompetent, excessively promotional and/or crooked management. It’s so much more rewarding, both psychically and financially, to short these types of businesses.
At today’s closing price of $222.29, Netflix is trading at 75.0x trailing EPS of $2.96. In more than 12 years of managing money professionally, we can’t recall an instance in which we paid more than 20x our estimate of normalized, current year earnings for any stock – and this has worked very well for us – so we won’t be buying Netflix anytime soon. But just because we don’t think it’s a good long doesn’t make it a good short.
Poor Whitney still doesn't get that the whole "value investor" long/short, 130/30 or whatever concept is dead... over...dunzo. Oh well. Best of luck.
Oh yes, time to short Netflix.