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This is a ‘make or break quarter’ for Netflix

Happy Wednesday. A version of this story first appeared in CNN Business’ Before the Bell newsletter. Not a subscriber? You can sign up right here.

Netflix reports third quarter earnings after US markets close. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Shares of the company have nosedived more than 20% since Netflix released disappointing second quarter results that included a massive miss on subscriber growth. The question dogging the streaming service: Is growth leveling off even before well-funded competitors such as AT&T’s HBO Max, Apple TV+ and Disney+ enter the scene? (AT&T is CNN’s parent company.)

“We see a make or break quarter for Netflix,” analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch wrote in a recent note.

Some analysts are worried that Netflix will miss its subscriber estimates once again, driving the stock even lower. Others believe that such concerns are already baked into the share price.

Not everyone’s a skeptic. In a recent research note, JPMorgan analysts conceded that Netflix faces a “different operating environment … going forward, one in which the streaming landscape becomes more populated by large, well-funded players, some of whom are more closely controlling their content distribution.”

But the bank believes Netflix will continue to benefit from cord-cutting, a trend with staying power.

“We continue to believe Netflix has significant advantages around data — helping to inform which content to create and how much to pay — and also its breadth and depth of content,” its analysts said.

Hong Kong protests get tied to trade talks

Are geopolitics driving the market? As the US-China trade fight expands in scope, it’s getting easier to make that argument.

Investors showed a burst of optimism on Tuesday as a batch of solid corporate earnings sent the S&P 500 rallying 1%. Positive sentiment was poised to extend into trading in Asia.

But another sign of tensions between Washington and Beijing quickly tamped down the exuberance.

What happened: China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday warned of “strong countermeasures” if the United States enacts legislation passed by the House of Representatives that indicates support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. The legislation is backed by both Republicans and Democrats.

“We urge the US side to come to a clear assessment of the situation, immediately stop pushing the Hong Kong-related act and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs before falling off the edge of the cliff,” spokesperson Geng Shuang said in a statement.

The result: Markets “stopped in their tracks,” Deutsche Bank observed.

The concern among investors is that disagreement over protests in Hong Kong could derail the tenuous trade truce struck by the United States and China last week.

“Whatever countermeasures [China] may be planning in the event that the bill is ratified, it surely won’t help the longevity of the limited trade truce between the two nations,” said Rabobank analyst Bas van Geffen.

Remember: The US called off higher tariffs on Chinese goods that would have gone into effect this week as President Donald Trump touted “phase one” of a deal. But both sides have yet to release any kind of agreement in writing and are still hammering out the details ahead of next month’s APEC summit in Chile.

My thought bubble: The confrontation between Washington and Beijing, which initially centered on alleged intellectual property theft, has metastasized over the past 18 months, roping in US security concerns about telecom equipment giant Huawei and Chinese purchases of US agricultural goods.

In this environment, it seemed inevitable that the US response to events in Hong Kong would enter the picture.

JPMorgan solidifies its Wall Street dominance

Big US bank earnings painted a stark picture on Tuesday: JPMorgan is flying high while competitors such as Goldman Sachs stumble.

Take investment banking. JPMorgan’s investment banking revenue jumped 8% in the third quarter on the strength of higher debt and equity underwriting fees, highlighting the bank’s breadth despite fallout from the botched WeWork IPO. Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, reported that investment banking revenue fell 15% compared to the same quarter last year.

Goldman said that its pipeline of deals looks stronger. But analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods suspect that’s because a number of deals weren’t completed this quarter — not because business is really picking up.

Up next

More earnings. Bank of America and PNC report results before US markets open. IBM and Netflix will follow after the close.

Also today:

Coming tomorrow: Earnings season marches on with Morgan Stanley and E*Trade.

CNN