Archive for January, 2015

NetFlix: Great Company, Overvalued Stock

This article will review NetFlix from a fundamental and technical perspective. Investors liked NetFlix’s results from Q4 2014, focusing on the company’s ability to grow the global subscriber base. The stock had a big move after hours Wednesday, trading above $400 for the first time since October. Although it continues trading like a nineties dot-com darling, NetFlix’s stock remains considerably overvalued vs. any reasonable future growth and profitability assumptions the company may achieve.

Below we see that NetFlix (compared with the S&P 500 and Amazon) has alternated between beating and lagging the S&P 500 for the past 12 months. Yesterday’s sharp price spike stands out in the chart.


The table below shows the 3-year compound average growth rates for NetFlix’s key income statement, balance sheet and value creation drivers. Although the average revenue growth is strong at 26.5%, accounting profits (EPS), free cash flow and economic profit (EVA) have all contracted over the past 3 years. (Quiz: When you grow fast and are less profitable and your stock price rises anyway, you’re just like . . . Amazon, very good.)


NetFlix’s deteriorating profitability is shown from various perspectives in the following table. Operating margins have collapsed into the low single digits, free cash flow margin is negative, and 2013 profits are lower than 2009-2011.


NetFlix’s negative free cash flow per share (shown below) is similar to the long-term deterioration displayed by Amazon.


At least Amazon has been on a CAPEX spending spree, which eats up their free cash flow. NetFlix has yet to make a big move in CAPEX spending compared with Amazon (see below).


Both stocks also struggle to create economic profit.


I projected NetFlix’s financial statements using generous modeling assumptions. I grew future revenues 22% for 2014, tapering down to a long-term growth rate of 5.0% in perpetuity (that is an exceptionally high growth rate for valuation modeling). Even though profit margins have been contracting, I set NetFlix’s pro forma operating margin at 9% and their net margin at 7%, much higher than the company has achieved in recent years.


NetFlix’s cost of capital calculation is shown below, containing several more generous assumptions, including using the current 10-year yield (only 1.85%), and lowering their beta from a historical 1.04 to 0.90. NetFlix’s discount rate of 7.161% is extremely low, which benefits their discounted free cash flow (DCF) valuation.


The discounted free cash flow model is shown below. Even with the generous modeling assumptions (continued fast growth, profit margin expansion and lower risk), the best DCF value I can obtain for NetFlix is $336, vs. their recent price of $409 after hours on Wednesday. The stock remains overvalued by at least 17% ($73 per share), based on a best-case scenario estimate.


A long-term (weekly prices) technical chart of NetFlix shows that yesterday’s closing price of $409 puts the stock right at its 50-week moving average. Although the MACD is still indicating negative price momentum, this breakout above the 50-week moving average could signal the start of a new long-term uptrend. The Wall Street Journal’s Moneybeat blog is already predicting that the next stop for this stock is $500 a share, which is possible (especially with a little help from the ECB, and occasional QE4 hints from Jim (The Mouthpiece) Bullard). Other brokerages, including Stifel, have also set a new price target of $500 for the stock.


Conclusions: NetFlix continues to find a way to grow the subscriber base, which is certainly good news. But the stock price of $409 reflects unrealistic growth and profitability targets the company is unlikely to achieve. If you’re a technical trader, or looking to fill a spot in a growth/momentum portfolio, NetFlix may fit the bill. But if you’re a fundamental investor, the stock is significantly overvalued at $409.

 The author holds no stock in NetFlix or Amazon. Data from S&P’s Capital IQ.

Categories: Market Commentary

Eurozone Banks Ready to Implode, Part 2: In Search of Solvency

This article represents Part 2 on the comparative performance of the 20 largest U.S. and European commercial banks since 2001. (The full paper is available for download from the Social Science Research Network: SSRN.) In yesterday’s post I showed how European banks were lagging U.S. banks in terms of revenue and loan growth, and how both sets of banks had not increased their allowance for loan loss accounts proportionately in the post-crisis period, despite much higher levels of impaired loans.

Today’s post will compare these banks’ profitability, capital ratios, effective tax rates, payouts to shareholders and overall solvency. The graph below depicts the average net profit margin for both sets of banks 2001-2013. Margins trend higher every year through 2006, plunge during the crisis years, and begin recovering through 2010. Afterwards, U.S. banks’ average margins trend back up to their pre-crisis levels, but European banks’ margins trend down for the next 4 years, all the way to a vapor-thin 7% by fiscal 2013.


If we measure profitability as return on equity (ROE), the results are similar. U.S. banks’ average ROE post-crisis has been higher than its pre-crisis average, while European banks’ steadily contracting ROE (2.5% in fiscal 2013) reflects just how desperate their situation really is.


With U.S. banks’ average profit margins back to their pre-crisis levels and ROE consistently higher, one might expect banks to pay taxes at the same rate as they did pre-crisis — but that would occur only in a world that made sense. In our new, banker-centric universe, “profits up, tax rates down” seems to be one part of the new normal even Jamie (“help, we’re under attack”) Dimon would approve of. No sign of regulators ganging up on banks here.


Now, it’s fair to say that global regulators have bombarded banks with complicated capital requirements under Dodd-Frank and Basel I, II, and III. And, based on the graph below, banks seem to be holding 2-3 times the Tier 1 capital required by Basel III. Good job, Mr. D . . . whoops, time out. I almost forgot about recent legislation that allows banks to keep trillions of dollars of derivatives positions off-balance sheet in units that are backstopped by the federal government. Thus, there is no need for the banks to hold capital against such risky positions, because, invoking Jerry Seinfeld: “Ms. Yellen, Mr. Draghi, you’re very good at creating the regulations, but you’re not so good at enforcing the regulations.” Must be tough when Citigroup lobbyists write the laws. The bottom line is, if banks had to hold capital against most of their derivatives positions they would still be vastly undercapitalized. U.S. banks continue using the political process to privatize their profits while socializing potential losses.


Thus far we’ve seen that U.S. banks have higher profits, pay lower tax rates, and appear safer than ever based on their fat and juicy capital ratios — these banks must be returning a ton of cash back to shareholders, right? Well, maybe not. Below I’ve graphed a pseudo-payout ratio (banks’ dividends/revenue ratio, as volatile profits during the crisis years make a conventional payout ratio hard to interpret). U.S. and European banks routinely paid out 10-12% of their revenues in the form of dividends pre-crisis, but post-crisis are paying 6%-8% (with Eurozone banks paying consistently more, despite their lower profitability).


If we include share repurchase activity in shareholder payouts U.S. banks look a bit more respectable — but the total payout to shareholders remains little more than half its pre-crisis level.


The last ratio measures banks’ overall solvency. The ratio of a bank’s market capitalization to all debts plus capital leases is a component of Moody’s Expected Default Frequency (EDF™) calculation. The higher the ratio of value to debt, the lower the probability of default. The deteriorating financial position of European vs. U.S. banks in the pre-crisis period is evident in the graph. European banks’ value/debt ratio displays a long-term decline to less than 15% in 2008, and rises moderately, back to 35%, as of year-end 2013. The value/debt ratio depicts these banks’ precarious slide closer to insolvency, as European banks still owe almost 3 times more to creditors than the market value of their stock. U.S. banks’ mean value/debt ratio tells a completely different story. The ratio achieves a low of only 40% in 2008, and climbs every year thereafter, averaging almost 150% in 2013, which is higher than any pre-crisis value. The ratio suggests a complete return to financial health for U.S. banks, and offers little reason for continued coddling by the U.S. Federal Reserve.


Conclusions: U.S. banks have been given 6 years to restore themselves to profitability — mission accomplished. But they still pay taxes, return cash to shareholders and dodge their capital requirements as if they were on the brink of collapse. European banks, on the other hand, remain trapped in a downward spiral of negative revenue and loan growth, decreasing profitability, increasing impaired and nonperforming loans, and are sporting market value to debt ratios that suggest imminent insolvency. Draghi’s “whatever it takes” promises will probably not be enough this time.

Data obtained from S&P’s Capital IQ.

Categories: Market Commentary

Eurozone Banks Ready to Implode, Part 1: It’s Bad, You Know

This article represents Part 1 on the comparative performance of U.S. and European banks since 2001. (The full paper is available for download from the Social Science Research Network: SSRN. The alternative title refers to the R.L. Burnside song It’s Bad, You Know, featured in an episode of The Sopranos.)

Taking a longer-term view, I find that U.S. banks earned significantly larger stock returns than their European counterparts in the post-crisis years, accompanied by higher rates of revenue and loan growth, lower risk, and superior profitability and loan quality. European banks, on the other hand, remain trapped in a downward spiral of negative revenue and loan growth, decreasing profitability, increasing impaired and nonperforming loans, and are sporting market value to debt ratios that suggest imminent insolvency.

Following are my findings about revenue growth and loan portfolio quality. The next article will cover profitability, capital ratios, interest on deposits and payouts to shareholders. Let’s start with stock returns since April 2009, shown in the graph below.


We know that both corporate profit growth and key macro drivers have been far stronger in the U.S. post-crisis, thus we see the S&P 500 (+150%) outperforming the Euronext 100 (+65%), and the average returns of the U.S. banks (+232%) significantly higher than their European counterparts (+80%). Both sets of banks have had difficulty growing their total revenue post-crisis, as shown in the graph below.


If you follow David Stockman on TalkMarkets, you are familiar with his many excellent articles regarding peak debt around the world. Despite rocky revenue growth, U.S. banks grew their loan portfolios every year post-crisis, for a total gain of +35% from 2010-2013. Over the same period, Eurozone banks’ loan portfolios shrunk by 10%:


Whether growing or shrinking, the quality of banks’ loan portfolios is a critical issue. The following graph shows the percentage of each set of banks’ loans classified as impaired, restructured or nonperforming since 2001:


U.S. banks’ troubled loans have remained stuck at around 7% post-crisis. In Europe, however, the percentage of troubled loans grows every year, approaching 18% by the end of 2013. If you don’t find this sufficiently disturbing, consider that these troubled loans do not take sovereign debt (the debt of other nations) into account, because repayment of these loans is “guaranteed” (Greece has not yet had to sign over the Parthenon as collateral, but the global banking crisis still has room to run, so stay tuned.)

The next graph shows banks’ coverage ratios, which is the amount of “loan loss allowances” relative to impaired loans that banks set aside on their balance sheet in the event of outright loan defaults. After a loan default, allowances are reduced and transferred to the income statement and expensed against bank revenues (as “provisions for loan losses”).


In our new centrally-planned world, banks have adopted a “What, me worry?” attitude about their troubled loans. Despite higher levels of impaired loans, both U.S. and European banks are setting aside much lower relative allowances for loan losses. Here we see the effect of a zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) — why declare a loan as “nonperforming” when it can be rolled over again and again at a short-term interest rate that is essentially zero? What could go wrong?

Next installment will cover banks’ profitability, capital ratios, interest paid on deposits and payouts to shareholders.

Data provided by S&P’s Capital IQ.