Among all of the stocks I hold in my Strategy Lab model growth portfolio, Netflix Inc. is the only one that has reached 10-bagger status so far. Peter Lynch coined the term "10 bagger" to describe stocks that grow to be worth at least 10 times their initial cost to an investor.
I've held Netflix in my Strategy Lab portfolio since inception in September, 2012. My cost base is $58 (U.S.), and the stock now trades over $660, meaning it's grown to be worth more than 11 times my cost basis in just under three years. While most investors would love to have even a single 10 bagger in their portfolio, most never will because it usually requires that the investor adopt the emotionally challenging buy-and-hold mindset.
I didn't expect Netflix to reach 10-bagger status in my model portfolio so quickly, but I certainly did hold the expectation it would happen over a longer period of time. I usually won't buy an aggressive growth stock unless I think there's a reasonable chance of seeing a tenfold return. As long as I'm strict with respect to quality and willing to ride out volatility, even when most stocks don't meet this lofty goal, I can do very well. My strategy is not complicated. I look for clear leaders in important, emerging industries that are executing well and disrupting an old business model.
Is Netflix still worth buying or even holding today? I think so, despite the fact that I've had to sell some to keep my model portfolio from looking like a single-stock investment, although I'll be the first to admit this is a nice problem to have. When people see that a stock has grown so quickly, they often get scared because they think a higher stock price means more risk and less opportunity for outperformance going forward.
But let me offer this reframe: Stocks can only radically outperform the market over the long term if investors are consistently caught underestimating the company's future performance. Said another way, stocks outperform because Wall Street radically fails to properly estimate the growth that a management team can accomplish. If Wall Street consistently fails to understand a stock, then why should we suddenly believe something has changed?
Several years ago, Netflix was shifting from DVD by mail to online video streaming. Investors were primarily concerned with the rate at which Netflix could attract U.S. subscribers. Most investors (me included) did not initially see the incredible opportunity to produce original content and achieve rapid global expansion. And while we're all now busy digesting this success, Netflix is at least one step ahead. Just last week news broke that Netflix has paid about $30-million to acquire the distribution rights to Brad Pitt's latest film, War Machine, scheduled to finish production next year. This is a game-changing deal because Netflix will exclusively control distribution of a major new film by a big-name actor in his prime.
Netflix can afford to make moves like this because of its global distribution platform. As an existing subscriber, I like that I'll have access to this new movie. But as an investor, I'm more excited about the hundreds of millions of broadband-connected households around the globe that are not yet Netflix subscribers. I bet millions upon millions of families will request a 30-day free trial just to be able to watch this movie or other big-name movies like it that are sure to come. Netflix can afford to use big-name movies as customer bait. I expect that customers, once hooked, will prefer to stay hooked.
Netflix may already be worth $40-billion, but despite amazing growth, they only have 60 million customers around the world. The U.S. market alone has 90 million broadband-connected households where Netflix has 41 million streaming customers. As Netflix expands globally, it continues to add local language content in foreign markets. What if it expands its subscriber base by a factor of five in the next decade? That alone could push revenue past $30-billion a year.
But what if Netflix got creative and decided to open its streaming platform for other content producers? Apple takes a 30-per-cent cut of app sales by iOS developers in order to run the store, collect payments and handle delivery. What if Netflix does something similar for video content? Think about concerts, special events and perhaps even some live sports. Netflix already has my credit card and I've already got their service connected to all of my displays. If I'm going to have friends over for a UFC fight night or watch a live broadcast of a concert, I'd surely prefer to buy it through Netflix. I have no idea if they'll actually do this or not, but it seems logical to me that Netflix will not stop at movies and TV shows. Something else will come, and it may just surprise us all.
Owning a great growth stock is better than watching a great movie. Instead of one great story and one ending, we get to keep enjoying a changing story with no end in sight. And if we pick the right stories, we get paid handsomely with the occasional 10 bagger, too.
Disclosure: Chris Umiastowski also owns Netflix shares in his personal portfolio.