The Internet streamer’s shares popped up more than 18% Thursday, to an all-time intraday high of $395.54 per share in early trading. [UPDATE: Netflix shares closed at $388.72, up 16.5% for the day, and a new all-time-high closing price.] The surge, amid a decline in the broader market, came after Netflix after market close Wednesday posted better-than-expected subscriber gains, revenue and earnings for the fourth quarter of 2013.
Investors also may have been responding to hints that Netflix will adopt new pricing plans, to broaden beyond the one-size-fits-all $7.99 per month that allows streaming on no more than two devices at once. The company last April introduced a four-concurrent stream “family” plan at $11.99 per month, and in late 2013 began testing two additional options: a $6.99 single-stream, standard-def only plan and a $9.99 three-stream variant.
But Hastings and CFO David Wells, in their quarterly letter to shareholders, said whatever Netflix decides to do “there would be no material near-term revenue increase from moving to this potential broader set of options,” because current members would be grandfathered into their existing plans. They added, “We are in no rush to implement such new member plans and are still researching the best way to proceed.”
At some point, Netflix will need to offer more premium content and move to multiple pricing tiers to continue growing domestic and foreign subscribers, Wedge Partners analyst Martin Pyykkonen wrote in a research note Thursday. “Some combination of multiple subscription tiers and/or VOD pricing options for more premium content could be structured in a way to be accretive to NFLX’s contribution margin going forward,” he wrote.
Netflix’s stock soared fourfold in 2013 — prompting Carl Icahn to cash out half his stake — as investors remained extraordinarily bullish on company growth prospects. Hastings, in discussing third-quarter 2013 results, called out the stock volatility and urged caution on the part of investors.
“Every time I read a story about Netflix is the highest-appreciating stock in the S&P 500 it worries me, because that was the exact headline that we used to see in 2003,” he said on the Oct. 21 call. “We have a sense of momentum investors driving the stock price more than we might normally. There is not a lot we can do about it but I wanted to honestly reflect upon that.”
Netflix ended 2013 with 33.4 million U.S. streaming subs, netting 2.33 million in Q4. Overseas, the company added 1.7 million to stand at 10.9 million internationally. For Q4, Netflix reported revenue of $1.18 billion, up 15% year over year, and net income of $48 million versus $3 million a year ago, topping Wall Street expectations on both fronts.
Netflix issued a positive outlook for the first quarter of 2014. The company expects to add 2.25 million net new subscribers in the U.S. and 1.6 million internationally. Netflix projects a net profit of $48 million for the current quarter, versus $3 million in Q1 2013.