Pandemic darlings face the boot as investors eye return to normal life



(Updates shares, details on rating cuts)

LONDON, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Stay-at-home market darling Netflix NFLX.O slumped on Friday, joining a broad decline in shares of other pandemic favourites this week as investors priced in expectations for a return to normal life with more countries gradually relaxing COVID restrictions.

The selloff, which began after Netflix NFLX.O and Peloton PTON.O posted disappointing quarterly earnings, spread to the wider stay-at-home sector as analysts judged the new Omicron coronavirus variant will not deliver the same economic headwinds seen in the first phase of the pandemic in 2020.

"This a confirmation that the economy is gradually moving towards some sort of normalisation," said Andrea Cicione, head of strategy at TS Lombard.

France will ease work-from-home rules from early February and allow nightclubs to reopen two weeks later, while Britain's business minister said people should get back to the office to benefit from in-person collaboration.

"With a return to the office and travel lanes opening, darlings of the WFH (work from home) thematic are reflecting the growing reality that the world is moving slowly but with certainty towards a new normalcy," said Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners in Singapore.

Netflix NFLX.O tumbled nearly 25% after it forecast new subscriber growth in the first quarter would be less than half of analysts' predictions.

The stock, a component of the elite FAANG group, was on track for its worst day in nearly nine-and-a-half years following rare rating downgrades from Wall Street analysts.

"It is hard to have confidence that Netflix will return to the historical +26.5 million net subscriber add run rate post the 2022 slowdown," MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson said.

"The decay rate on streaming content is incredibly rapid. 'Squid Game?' That's so last quarter. 'The Witcher?' Done on New Year's Eve!"

Exercise bike maker Peloton PTON.O lost nearly a quarter of its value on Thursday, leading at least nine brokerages to cut their price target on the stock.

The selloff erased nearly $2.5 billion from its market value after its CEO said the company was reviewing the size of its workforce and "resetting" production levels, though it denied the company was temporarily halting production.

Peloton's shares were up nearly 5% on Friday morning, bouncing back somewhat from a 23.9% drop on Thursday, its biggest one-day percentage decline since Nov. 5.

HOME DELIVERY

Both companies were part of a group, along with others such as Zoom ZM.O and Docusign DOCU.O whose shares soared in 2020, and in some cases 2021 as well, as people around the world were forced to stay at home in the face of the coronavirus.

However, thanks to vaccine rollouts and the spread of the less severe Omicron strain of COVID-19, life is returning to normal in many countries, leaving companies like Netflix and Peloton struggling to sustain high sales figures.

According to data from S3 Partners, short-sellers doubled their profits by betting against Peloton in 2021, the third best returning U.S. short.

Direxion's Work from Home ETF WFH has fallen more than 9% in first three weeks of the year, compared to a 6% drop in the fall of the broader U.S. stock market .SPX . Blackrock's virtual work and life multisector ETF IWFH.K has weakened more than 8% this year.

In Europe, lockdown winners are also going through a rough patch as rising bond yields pressurise growth and tech stocks.

Online British supermarket group Ocado OCDO.L , Germany's meal-kit delivery firm HelloFresh HFGG.DE and food delivery company Delivery Hero DHER.DE which emerged as European stay-at-home champions in the early days of the pandemic have underperformed the pan-European STOXX 600 so far in 2022.



stayhome Link



Reporting by Alun John and Julien Ponthus; Additional
reporting by Nivedita Balu, Anisha Sircar and Chuck Mikolajczak;
Editing by Saikat Chatterjee, Alison Williams and Saumyadeb
Chakrabarty

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