In all the gushing over Netflix, there's room for caution

The reaction is predicable. The share price is not.

With a certain depressing predictability, the newspapers today are gushing in their praise for Netflix. The US-headquartered service now streams video to US 29.17m subscribers, up just over 2m since the start of the year, enabling it to claim to be the most watched network in the US.

Netflix added another 1m streaming members outside the US in the first quarter, bringing total international subscribers to 7.1m. It currently offers its service in Canada, Latin America and since early 2012, the UK. Netflix’s first quarter results provided a further boost to a share price that has been skyrocketing of late: at the end of last September, the share price was $55.

Since then, the share price has risen almost four-fold to $213. According to Netflix, its future success will be boosted by producing original content. The sum total of its original content to date is the grand total of one programme; that requires a generous definition of original, namely a remake of House of Cards.

It currently charges £6.99 per month in the UK; by contrast, the BBC licence fee seems really quite a snip. Just before potential investors empty the piggy bank and rush to invest in Netflix shares, they might care to reflect on the nature of this market sector. Netflix’s main rivals, the Amazon-owned LoveFilm and HBO, are not going to go away any time soon and can be expected to fight back.

If and when Amazon bids more aggressively for the rights to film and TV shows, the acquisition costs for Netflix cannot but rise. Also, as a number of sharper analysts have spotted, Netflix may have cash flow challenges, with $3.3bn in off-balance sheet content liabilities and only around $1bn in cash. As for producing further fresh content: House of Cards cost around $100m to produce. At that sort of cost, do not expect too many headline grabbing productions of that calibre to follow any time soon.

One other thing jumps out from the first quarter Netflix results and that is how way out the performance of the firm is compared to the management predictions. If the firms own management finds it so hard to predict its performance, heaven knows how the analyst community will get on in their forecasts.

Investors may get lucky and Netflix could be an acquisition target for an Apple or a Microsoft in the coming months. On the other hand, the shares are wildly volatile; not shares one would suggest for savings put away for a rainy day.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.