Netflix said Wednesday it plans to offer $1 billion in senior notes to raise fresh cash as Wall Street mulled the company’s strong quarter — with one analyst downgrading the stock to “outperform” from “buy.”
The shares, which have defied volatile markets in recent weeks, drifted lower in late morning trading today, down about 1.9%. Justin Patterson of Raymond James said a major subscriber jump for the first quarter had in large part already been baked into the stock price.
“Netflix is off to a phenomenal start in 2020” but the shares are “not inexpensive,” Patterson wrote in a note Wednesday morning. “While we continue to view NFLX as a long-term winner in DTC video, we believe potential for positive estimate revisions and multiple expansion are limited until we observe post-COVID-19 retention rates.”
Netflix, which Patterson noted has little problem accessing cash, said it will use net proceeds from the debt offering “for general corporate purposes, which may include content acquisitions, production and development, capital expenditures, investments, working capital and potential acquisitions and strategic transactions.”
Netflix taps the debt market for cash periodically to fuel its massive content spending, which hit $15 billion last year. It’s last offering was for $2 billion in October.
Companies across media and entertainment have been raising billions of dollars over the past month to provide a cushion against the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Disney, for instance, has secured $11 billion in new financing.
Netflix, as its first-quarter earnings reported Tuesday showed, is in a slightly different situation with no exposure to advertising, live sports, theme parks or theatrical distribution. It’s a pure subscription play, and it saw net new sub adds of nearly 16 million last year globally as consumer stuck at home turned to the service. The figure blew past expectations.
Wall Street’s biggest concern has been a combination of the streaming giant’s rapid spending ramp-up on original production, long-term debt and negative free cash flow. Long-term debt stood at $14.17 billion in the first quarter.
The Street generally considers free cash flow — basically operating cash flow minus expenditures — a key financial metric. It shows the cash that a company can produce after deducting major investments from its operating cash flow, funds that it can use however it wants.
Netflix executives assured investors yesterday that negative free cash flow had peaked in 2019, when it was $3.27 billion. Decreased spending on production — forced by shutdowns due to COVID-19 — in fact reduced negative free cash flow. Said CFO Spencer Neumann after the earnings: “We talked about the fact that we planned previously to have about negative $2.5 billion of free cash flow in the year. And now we’ve said it’s less than $1 billion. So you can do the math on that.”
As production slowed, Netflix reported positive free cash flow for the first quarter of a $162 million, swinging from negative free cash flow of $460 million in the year-earlier period and a negative $1.7 billion in the December quarter.
But as production ramps up again, so will spending. “It will be a multi-year process to get out of negative free cash flow,” Neumann said.
“We will be, obviously, a much improved free cash flow profile this year. As productions ramp, that cash spend will increase again. So … it’s still a multiyear path to sustained free cash flow positive. It’s just going to be a little bit choppier getting there. And 2019 will still be our maximum negative year,” he said.
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