Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) has either hit a huge bump in the road, or the dynamics of its growth have changed completely. Either way, its stock sold off in double digits after its earnings announcement, which makes it cheap, according to analysts, who say the sell-off is an overreaction. Either way, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), by far the most likely owner of Netflix, other than Netflix shareholders, has a unique opportunity to make the most important M&A move in its history and bulk its increasingly important content business.
On the surface, Netflix did well last quarter. It had earnings of $0.09 per share, compared to the consensus forecast of $0.02 per share. However, it added only 160,000 subscribers in the United States, against an anticipated 500,000, and added 1.5 million overseas, against the 2 million expected. Another point that should be taken from earnings is how low margin a business Netflix is. Its net income was $41 million on revenue of $2.1 billion.
While some experts blamed the slowing subscriber growth on price hikes, others see the problem as one of competition. It may be argued that Netflix competes against Hulu, Amazon TV and streaming video, as well as Apple. The universe is larger than that and includes, at least, cable, satellite and fiber-based TV.
Apple’s major problems are twofold. The first is that the growth of its core iPhone business has slowed. The iPhone 7 may not be different enough from the iPhone 6 to change that substantially. The other is that Apple once dominated the online premium content business via iTunes. The competitive market has changed radically since then. Apple is not the leader in the video content business, and it has no clear means to become the leader unless it buys a business in a poll position.
Netflix’s market cap was cut to $35 billion, and its share price dropped close to its 52-week low. Money is not a problem for Apple. Its market cap is $550 billion, and it has $225 billion in cash, short-term and long-term investments on its balance sheet.
Apple is faltering on two fronts. A buyout of Netflix would more than steady it on one of them. That would leave “only” the iPhone 7 problem.