Netflix Inc. (NFLX)’s biggest slump in seven years is making the mail-order and streaming movie service a 57 percent cheaper takeover target for companies from Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) to Google Inc. (GOOG)
The Los Gatos, California-based company has lost almost $9 billion in market value since July, before a price increase and the rebranding of its DVD-by-mail service as Qwikster alienated customers and drove away investors. Netflix, which still earned more per dollar invested than 99 percent of the biggest American companies in the past year, was valued at $129.36 a share last week, half its record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
While Netflix may have lost more than a half-million U.S. subscribers after boosting rates, the company has more paying customers for movies and TV shows than Amazon, Google and Sony Corp. (6758) Amazon could now pay a 50 percent premium for Netflix’s streaming service and still get the entire company for 26 percent less than its value just two weeks ago, according to data compiled by Wedbush Securities and Bloomberg.
“It’s an attractive asset,” Todd Lowenstein, who helps oversee $17.2 billion for Highmark Capital Management Inc., said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “There would be some interested suitors taking a look at it, especially given the substantial pullback in the share price.”
Steve Swasey, a spokesman for Netflix, said the company doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.
Rise and Fall
Today, Netflix climbed 2.2 percent to $132.22 in New York.
Separately, Netflix said in a statement that it secured rights to stream films from DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., maker of “Madagascar” and the “Shrek” films.
Netflix, which had 24.6 million U.S. users at the end of June, had surged more than 1,000 percent in the past five years to a record $298.73 on July 13.
Netflix more than tripled last year for the biggest gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, the benchmark gauge for American common equity. The company had a return on equity in the past 12 months of 84 percent, versus a 15 percent average for S&P 500 companies, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Since July, Netflix has tumbled as customers panned the pricing change, which increased the rate for users of both the online and DVD services by 60 percent, talks broke down with the Starz movie channel and pay-TV operator Dish Network Corp. (DISH) started a competing service with Blockbuster Movie Pass.
The drop accelerated in the past two weeks, with a 38 percent tumble over five days through Sept. 21, as the company cut its U.S. subscriber forecast and Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings separated and renamed the DVD business.
Netflix’s decline may give companies with designs on the market such as Amazon and Google a reason to consider buying the online entertainment leader rather than build their own services. Both were said to have made first-round offers for Netflix rival Hulu LLC, people with knowledge of the situation said on Sept. 2.
Hastings may have split the business in order to sell the streaming service to Seattle-based Amazon, the world’s largest Internet retailer, according to Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, who upgraded Netflix to “outperform” last week.
Amazon, which offers online movie rentals free to customers who buy its $79-a-year Amazon Prime shipping service, may be willing to pay $130 a share for the streaming alone, Pachter wrote in a report to clients dated Sept. 22. His estimate includes a 50 percent takeover premium. Pachter projects the Qwikster DVD business would get $25 a share.
“For someone like Amazon to add additional content, it might be a way to do it,” Peter Sorrentino, a senior money manager at Huntington Asset Advisors in Cincinnati, said in a telephone interview. The firm oversees $14.8 billion. “So much has been delivered over the Internet. Another distribution channel would make logical sense.”
Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for Amazon, didn’t respond to an e-mail and a telephone call seeking comment.
Google, owner of the YouTube video website, expanded its YouTube Movies rental service to Canada in the past month. The company last year introduced Google TV, a service that allows consumers to watch movies from the Internet through their television sets.
“The name that would pop in my mind first is Google,” Tim Ghriskey, who oversees $2 billion as chief investment officer of Solaris Group LLC in Bedford Hills, New York, said in a telephone interview. “Google loves to throw money at ideas and companies that they think have the potential to be game changers and become major players.”
Katelin Todhunter-Gerberg, spokeswoman at Mountain View, California-based Google, declined to comment on whether it is considering a purchase of Netflix.
Brett Harriss, an analyst with Gabelli & Co. in Rye, New York, says that potential buyers are more likely to wait until Netflix gets cheaper before making a bid.
Including net debt, Netflix is valued at 16.6 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, almost twice as much as the average company in the S&P 500, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“At some point, this does get cheap,” Harriss said in an interview. “But I don’t think we’re down there yet.”
Netflix may need financial backing as competition for content and customers intensifies, said Frank Biondi, the former Universal Studios CEO and Viacom Inc. president who now sits on the boards of RealD Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp.
‘The Only Independent’
Netflix had $376 million of cash at the end of the second quarter, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That compares with current and future accounts payable for streaming content of $687 million, as well as $2.2 billion of content commitments that didn’t meet recognition requirements, according to Wedbush.
Amazon has $6.36 billion in cash and equivalents, while Google holds $39.1 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
“I don’t think Reed Hastings wants to be the only independent in a world where Amazon or Google can bring so many resources and have so much money,” Biondi said.
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