Netflix soars after subscriptions blow past 200 million

Lucas Shaw, Bloomberg January 20 | Updated on January 20, 2021

With $8.2 billion in cash — and a credit line that hasn’t been drawn down — Netflix said it no longer needs external financing

Netflix Inc ended its biggest year in company history with a bang, adding more customers than expected and saying that it no longer needs to borrow money to build its entertainment empire.

The world’s leading paid streaming service attracted 8.51 million new customers in the final three months of the year, helped by the popularity of hit shows such as Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit. That outpaced Netflix’s own forecast and the 6.06 million projected by Wall Street, and sent its shares up 13 per cent in late trading.

The earnings report included two key milestones for Netflix: The company passed the 200 million-subscriber mark for the first time and said its cash flow will allow it to stop relying on debt to fuel its growth. With $8.2 billion in cash — and a credit line that hasn’t been drawn down — Netflix said it no longer needs external financing. It’s also considering stock buybacks, something it hasn’t done in about a decade.

The pandemic has provided a huge boost to Netflix’s business, forcing people inside and limiting other entertainment options like movie theaters and concerts. The company added 25.9 million customers in the first six months of last year, and ended up adding a record 36.6 million customers in all.

“It’s accelerated that big shift from linear to streaming entertainment,” Spencer Neumann, the company’s chief financial officer, said on a call with investors and analysts Tuesday.

Also read: How to access free content on Netflix without an account

Burning Cash

While Netflix has consistently reported profits, it had to borrow billions of dollars to fund its spending on new programmes. It had negative free cash flow of $3.3 billion in 2019, its worst on record. Since then, it’s turned a corner. Free cash flow will be close to the break-even point in 2021, Netflix said Tuesday. Analysts had projected negative $619.7 million. Against that backdrop, Netflix’s debt spree looks like a worthy investment. It borrowed some $15 billion to boost its market capitalisation by more than $200 billion.

Critics have also argued Netflix would suffer when rival media companies pulled their most popular titles from the service and created their own competitors. Yet Netflix posted its best performance yet in the same year that several new competitors entered the fray and Disney+ added 87 million paid subscribers.

“Our strategy is simple: If we can continue to improve Netflix every day to better delight our members, we can be their first choice for streaming entertainment,” the company said in a letter to shareholders. “This past year is a testament to this approach.”

Published on January 20, 2021

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