Netflix recently announced that it has over 200 million global subscribers, an impressive milestone. But more importantly, the company is “very close” to being free cash flow positive, despite previously forecasting a loss of up to $1 billion on the year. As Barron’s put it, “the big news was the revelation that Netflix is no longer a money pit. It’s now well on the way to becoming a cash machine.”
This is the same publication, I might add, that wrote an article called “Netflix Shares Could Dive to $45” in 2016. “Investors continue to overlook increasing cash burn and relatively modest income,” warned Barron’s. The stock is now trading at around $563.
Lots of people felt the same way back then. Do some googling and you’ll find plenty of articles with headlines like: “It’s Official: Netflix, Inc. (NFLX) Stock’s Run is OVER,” (Investor Place, 2016). Here’s another quote from Movie City News: “Netflix will be purchased by 2020… because the content issues will overwhelm their business, not too much unlike the way Netflix overwhelmed Blockbuster and the remaining mom & pop DVD/video stores.”
The bear argument against Netflix has always been that it will never be able to repay the huge amount of debt it has accrued ($16 billion at last count) to finance all those thousands of hours of content.
For example, here’s what Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told the Wall Street Journal when House of Cards came out: “Unless Hastings has figured out a way to lay off some of the [House of Cards] costs with a partner, or work some kind of production magic, this thing is going to cost Netflix a pile of money.” LOL.
That argument has now been settled. Not only does Netflix now have a significant competitive moat with attendant pricing leverage (get ready for your monthly rate to go up this year), but it’s also planning on an initial $500 million debt payment, as well as stock buybacks.