Netflix shares were trading sharply higher after the streaming giant posted better-than-expected subscriber growth for the third quarter.
The company added 2.41 million net new subscribers in the quarter, beating its own forecast of 1 million additions. Netflix (ticker: NFLX) said it expects to add another 4.5 million subscribers in the December quarter.
Netflix stock jumped 14% in late trading to $274.60.
The streaming company posted third-quarter revenue of $7.93 billion and earnings of $3.10 a share, ahead of the company’s forecast of $7.84 billion and $2.14 a share. For the fourth quarter, Netflix projects revenue of $7.78 billion and earnings of 36 cents a share.
Revenue in the latest quarter was up 6% but would have been 13% higher in constant currency, as the strong dollar took a considerable toll on reported results. The company said the revenue increase reflected a 5% increase in average paid memberships versus a year ago and a 1% rise in average revenue per membership.
The company said revenue was up 19% in the Asia-Pacific region adjusted for currency; 13% in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region; and 19% in Latin America. For the U.S. and Canada, revenue was up 12%, with paid subscribers up 100,000. The bigger subscriber increase was in the Asia-Pacific region, where the total increased 1.43 million. The company added 570,000 subscribers in EMEA, and 310,000 in Latin America.
Operating margin was 19.3%, falling from 23.5% a year ago and 19.8% in the June quarter, declines the company said were due to foreign exchange factors. Net income of $1.398 billion includes a $348 million noncash change tied to the company’s Euro-denominated debt.
The company expects an operating margin of 4% in the fourth quarter, down from 8% a year ago, due to both foreign exchange rates and higher content and marketing costs. Netflix said that the strong dollar will reduce full-year revenue by about $1 billion, with about an $800 million reduction in operating income.
In one surprise development, Netflix said that starting next quarter, the company would no longer give guidance on paid memberships—the metric that has been most important to investors in recent quarters. The company will still report quarterly subscriber data, just not forward-looking guidance on the metric.
The company said it would continue to provide guidance on revenue, operating income, operating margin, net income, earnings per share, and shares outstanding. Netflix said that with the addition of new revenue streams such as advertising and paid sharing, revenue growth will be a better measure of the company’s growth.
The company also provided a brief update on its strategy for reducing account sharing by people not in the same household. Netflix said that starting in early 2023, it will offer people now using borrowed passwords a way to transfer their Netflix profile into their own account. The company will also offer sharers easier ways to manage devices and to create sub-accounts to pay for family or friends.
Netflix also provided an update on its gaming service, which it launched almost a year ago. There are now 35 games on the service, the company said, and there are “encouraging signs” that gameplay leads to higher subscriber retention rates. The company said there are 55 more games in development, some based on Netflix video content.
Last week, Netflix unveiled the details of its new ad-supported subscription tier. Starting Nov. 3, the company will offer consumers the option to pay $6.99 a month for “Basic with Ads,” which will include four to five minutes of advertising per hour for streaming movies and TV shows. The new service is $3 cheaper than the company’s Basic plan, which is $9.99 a month, and a dollar a month cheaper than the new ad-supported tier on Walt Disney’s (DIS) Disney+.
Netflix said it doesn’t expect a material contribution from the new ad-supported tier in the fourth quarter, noting that it expects to grow membership in that plan “gradually over time.” Netflix added that the reaction from advertisers so far has been “extremely positive.”
Netflix also used its quarterly letter as a forum to poke at the competition, noting that its rivals together will have more than $10 billion in operating losses this year, versus a projected $5.4 billon in operating profit for Netflix. “Building a large, successful streaming business is hard,” the company said.
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Equities are often seen as expensive after promising start to 2023
A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.
After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.
The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.
Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.
We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:
‘Animal spirits’ could return
Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.
Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.
If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.
“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.
Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.
“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”
Keeping dollar’s moves in focus
For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.
Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.
The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.
Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.
“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.
This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.
“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”
Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.
Stocks still appear overvalued
Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.
Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.
The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.
“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”
One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.
Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.
Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.
“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.
A better year for bonds seen
Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.
After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.
“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”
Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.
“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.
Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.
Find the fear, and find the value
Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.
“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.
Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.
“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.
The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.
“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”
Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.
It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.
“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.
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