Wall Street raises targets on Netflix, citing price increases

By Sayantani Ghosh and Tanya Agrawal

(Reuters) – Netflix Inc <NFLX.O> shares hit an all-time high on Friday as Goldman Sachs and other brokerages raised their price targets on the world’s biggest online-streaming company, citing its ability to raise fees without scaring away customers.

The home of “House of Cards” and “Narcos” has been spending heavily on new shows and acquiring the rights to other TV series as it looks to lure more people away from traditional cable TV.

To help fund that spending – a sticking point with the company’s critics – Netflix said it would raise prices for two of its three main subscription plans.

“Content remains the primary driver of subscriber growth and engagement (and the pricing power that comes with it),” Goldman analyst Heath Terry wrote in a note.

Netflix is scheduled to report its third-quarter earnings on Monday, although that quarter will not reflect the recent price increases, which take effect in November.

Goldman expects the company to report that it added a net 1.1 million U.S. and 4.3 million international subscribers in the third quarter, partly driven by new shows such as “Ozark.”

The number of subscribers is Wall Street’s most closely watched gauge of the company’s growth. Goldman’s estimate is above most other analysts, who are on average expecting 810,000 U.S. and 3.69 million international subscriber additions, according to FactSet.

“we believe upward revisions to consensus estimates will ultimately drive further outperformance,” Terry said.

Goldman, which has a “buy” rating on the stock, boosted its price target to $235 from $200. The median price target on Netflix’s stock is $208, which has moved up 22 percent over roughly three months, showing Wall Street’s growing bullishness.

Netflix shares rose to an all-time high of $200.82 on Friday. They have jumped 58 percent so far this year.

JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth lowered his estimate for net subscriber additions for the fourth quarter by 255,000 to 6.7 million due to a modest uptick in churn, but said the fee increase was clearly a positive for Netflix.

Anmuth raised his Netflix price target on Friday to $225 from $210.

Not everybody is on board with Netflix’s aggressive spending, however.

“The thing that has kept us on the sidelines is … this company is continuing to burn cash,” said Michael Scanlon, a portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management, adding that Netflix was up against many deep-pocketed competitors.

Netflix expects to spend $6 billion this year and $7 billion in 2018 to produce original shows and movies to stay ahead of Amazon.com’s <AMZN.O> Prime Video service and Hulu.

Earlier this week, Hulu bid out others for U.S. rights to “This is Us.” The company expects to spend about $2.5 billion in 2017 on buying movies and TV show rights.

Also, Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> said in August it will stop providing new movies to Netflix from 2019 and launch its own streaming service.

Hulu dropped the price of its cheapest plan package by $2 for the first year of subscription, days after Netflix raised prices. The company last disclosed the size of its subscriber base in May 2016 as 12 million paying customers, according to Variety.

Netflix had nearly 104 million members as of June 30.

Analysts expect Netflix to report a third-quarter adjusted profit of 32 cents per share, and revenue up 30 percent to $2.97 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

(Reporting by Sayantani Ghosh in New York and Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Rigby and Lisa Shumaker)