Financial Performance

Netflix Tops 200M Subs, Sees Positive Cash Flow

The streaming giant's shares jumped 12% after it indicated it would return any excess cash to shareholders through buybacks.
Matthew HellerJanuary 20, 2021

Netflix shares jumped in extended trading Tuesday after the streaming giant reported better-than-expected quarterly subscriber growth and said it was “very close” to being sustainably cash-flow positive.

Netflix has not reported full-year positive cash flow since 2011, when it had just 26 million members, and has racked up billions of dollars in debt as it relied on external financing to cover the huge costs of licensing and developing content.

But CFO Spencer Neumann said on the fourth-quarter earnings call Tuesday that free cash flow is expected to be about break-even in 2021 and “then positive thereafter.” Free cash flow for the fourth quarter was negative $284 million as Netflix restarted production of shows that had been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

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The company also has $8 billion of cash on its balance and, according to Neumann, “if we have excess cash, we’ll return it to shareholders through a share buyback program.”

“As Netflix is finally poised to fund its spending needs with cash from its operations, investors may move on to start worrying again about future subscriber growth,” MarketWatch said. “With more consumers than ever stuck at home as the pandemic continues, it may become harder and harder to find new subscribers.”

In the after-hours session, Netflix shares rose 12.3% to $563.49 as the company also disclosed that it added 8.5 million subscribers in the quarter, beating analysts’ estimates of 6.47 million and pushing total subscribers over 200 million for the first time.

Netflix earned $1.19 per share on revenue of $6.64 billion compared to estimates of earnings of $1.39 per share on revenue of $6.626 billion.

As MarketWatch reports, “After Netflix reported modest gains in the third quarter, there were fears that demand for Netflix was cooling amid intensifying competition” from the likes of Disney+, Apple TV, HBO Max, and Prime Video.

“It’s super impressive what Disney has done,” CEO Reed Hastings said, adding that “it gets us fired up about increasing our membership, increasing our content budget, and it’s going to be great for the world that Disney and Netflix are competing show by show, movie by movie.”