Netflix shares closed down 4.2% Thursday — their fifth straight day of declines — with the stock down 14% since Aug. 27.
What has investors spooked? Netflix, a historically volatile stock, has been buffeted by broad economic fears in recent weeks: It took a beating along with media and entertainment stocks in a sell-off last month.
But Netflix shares have suffered bigger losses than the overall market in the last three days, and the once high-flying stock may be crashing amid fears that Apple, Hulu and Amazon.com are putting new competitive pressure on the No. 1 subscription-video provider.
For starters, as first reported by Variety, it was revealed this week that Apple is scoping out Hollywood to potentially launch its own original entertainment programming. If the tech giant — which has a staggering $203 billion in cash on hand — were to aggressively jump into the space with originals, Netflix could be in for some serious pain.
The bad news started on Sunday, when Netflix disclosed that its deal for thousands of movie titles from Epix would lapse at the end of September. At the same time, Hulu and Epix announced a streaming pact for the same content to pick up after Netflix's rights end.
Then, Hulu announced a virtually ad-free tier of its subscription service, for $12 monthly, finally offering one of the key benefits that have long appealed to Netflix users. On the other hand, Hulu's pricing for the no-commercial service is higher than Netflix's most popular plans.
Meanwhile, Amazon.com on Tuesday launched the ability for Prime customers to watch TV shows and movies on iOS and Android devices while disconnected from the Internet — a feature Netflix has suggested it will never offer. That came a few days after Amazon announced a September rollout date for Prime Instant Video in Japan, where Netflix launched on Sept. 2.
The news sequence seems to have had a cumulative effect, leading investors to bail on Netflix stock and take profits. The decline comes after shares had climbed to record highs in June.
Still, many analysts remain bullish on Netflix.
The growing competition for Netflix underscores its pricing power, BTIG Research analyst Rich Greenfield said, who sees the sell-off of the stock as a buying opportunity.
"Competition has been the bear thesis for five years-plus," he said. "We have continually said that the more on-demand, ad-free competitors that develop the better — as it becomes easier for consumers to cut the traditional video bundle or 'cord,' the more dollars (become) freed up to spend on services like Netflix."
The Netflix pullback may be partly due to greater threats from Apple, Hulu and Amazon, as well as possible concerns with China's economy amid Netflix's international expansion plans, said S&P Capital IQ analyst Tuna Amobi. But there are too many factors to "read much into any one item at this point," he said. Amobi maintains a "buy" rating on Netflix shares.
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