Netflix's Missteps or BP's Gulf Oil Spill: Which Was Worse for Stock Prices?

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It's not a happy morning at Netflix. After markets closed last night, the company revealed mass subscriber departures following price hikes and a brief flirtation with the idea of creating a spin-off company called Qwikster. Netflix's shares opened at $74.88, down 37 percent from yesterday at close.

Shares had already fallen substantially from a high-water mark at $298.73 in July. That means that from July to today, the price of Netflix shares is down 75 percent. How does that compare -- strictly in the optic share prices -- with another major corporate disaster, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April of 2010?

In a word: worse. 

Before the oil spill, BP's stock was trading around $60 -- the peak being a price of $61.64 in January (BP's stock had historically been higher, in 2007 and 2008, but for looking at the effect of the spill, it makes more sense to use a more recent high). The lowest the price would go was around $26, in June following the spill -- a decline of 56 percent. Today, BP's stock is trading at $43.60.

Here is how each of these played out:

netflixstock1.jpg

bp.jpg

The two charts show different periods in time and are at different scales. If BP's line were to appear on the Netflix chart, it would be even flatter than it appears, because during that period from April to July of 2010, BP's loss was only about 30 points -- barley a blip compared to Netflix's 250-point tumble.

As measured by stock prices, Qwikster was a bigger failing than the oil spill, at least for now. Netflix may yet recover, and perhaps more fully than BP has. In every sense other than stock prices, Qwikster and price hikes did far less lasting damage than the oil spill. In six months time, the market may come to reflect that.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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