I've said before that I'm not a big fan of Netflix. Anything that makes me keep tabs on envelopes, stamps, and post offices is so 20th century. Plus, I already have video on demand via Direct TV and don't see the need.
But guess what? That puts me in the minority among home movie buffs. Netflix CEO Barry McCarthy said last week that the company's sales numbers were "remarkably strong", even in the midst of a recession. And, according to Piper Jaffrey digital media analyst Michael Olsen, Netfliex is gaining ground fast on chief rival Blockbuster.
Back to McCarthy for a moment. The Netflix CFO says that sales growth is about skyrocket, as consumers opt for the 'cocoon" approach and stay home, increasingly, to meet their entertainment needs. Companies like Dominos, Mattel (which makes board games), and even Sony (which makes the Wi) have all seen sales spike in the last half of 2008, as people cut down on going out for their entertainment needs. Once you already have a big screen, high-def television, going out to spend $40 at a movie theater seems almost redundant - and quite expensive.
Said McCarthy, to a group of analysts at a Barclay's investment conference last week; "Sometime in the next couple of days we are going to punch through the top end of the range that we gave for subscribers. We're experiencing an extraordinarily strong quarter but probably will not raise our quarterly forecast because of continuing uncertainty in the market.
Netflix, which has seen its stock price rise by 20% in December, isn't letting any grass grow under its feet now that it has a juicy market opportunity. The company has bumped up it advertising and marketing budget by 20% - name another company that's doing that these days -- and is grabbing as much air time it can get to promote its relatively cheap home entertainment prices.
"We are getting more bang for our buck in marketing spending," McCarthy added. "The rate of organic growth is exceeding our expectations. The value proposition is resonating with customers."
How many customers? According to the company's web site, Netflix should end 2008 with 8.85 million to 9.15 million subscribers, slightly below its last forecast, in July, 2008, of 9.1 million to 9.7 million subscribers by year-end. Netflix also anticipates Q4, 2008 revenue of $351 million to $357 million.
Hey, in for a dime, in for a dollar. For a short-term boost, give Netflix a shot.
A side note: it's that time of year when you start to see a lot of market forecasts for 2009. In that spirit, long-time stock market guru John Train, chairman of Montrose Advisors, says that in his 50 years of trading on Wall Street, he hasn't seen anything like this market, but that there is plenty of money to be made out there in 2009.
Says Train, "I presume that although we are in a severe recession it will not decompose into a full-scale depression, because that is what everyone is afraid of and desperate to avoid. Wall Street likes to say that the market has anticipated five of the last three recessions - the point being that a market crash frightens the authorities into taking necessary action.
Train thinks that the media and even the U.S. government have hurt the economy and markets by overblowing the severity of the current economic crisis. But in doing so, investors have an opportunity to strike.
"Investment opportunity is the difference between the reality and the perception," he says. "And since many equities are priced as though a depression might be on the way, many of them are attractively priced."
"One approach I am comfortable with is owning shares in wonderful businesses that do well in all circumstances - Johnson & Johnson and the like. They rarely fly out of the park, but provide long, steady gains that will get you where you want to go. They often have huge cash hoards, e.g., Cisco, Apple, Microsoft, and Berkshire Hathaway, whose war chests exceed $20 billion. Or Hewlett-Packard, Google, Intel, or IBM, all in the $10 billion league. Such companies can take advantage of a weak market just as private investors would, with the difference that they know very well how much to pay for what fits their product line."
"In the present environment I favor companies that can prosper in the lean years ahead. So, not Saks, but Wal-Mart; not Neiman Marcus, but Dollar General."
Decent advice from a longtime market maven.