Netflix Stock Soars as Subscribers and Debt Pile Up

When it comes to Netflix, Wall Street always loves larger-than-expected subscriber gains. That explains why the popular streaming service's shares are soaring after Netflix blew away forecasts by adding 5.2 million new subscribers in the most recent quarter.

The subscriber bump easily outpaced analysts' estimates of 3.2 million new subscribers, and it was more than triple the number of gains reported in the same quarter last year. Netflix reported the news after the market closed on Monday, quickly sending the company's shares up by more than 10% in after-hours trading.

Wall Street typically either rewards or punishes Netflix stock based on the company's quarterly subscriber movement rather than its actual earnings. That was also the case on Monday, as the company's stock soared, despite the fact that Netflix reported earnings of 15 cents per share, just below the 16 cents forecasted. While the company reported $2.79 billion in quarterly revenue (which topped estimates and was up 32% year-over-year), its $65.6 million in quarterly profits also fell short of the $68.5 million estimated by analysts.

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In a letter to shareholders, Netflix attributed the subscriber increase to the surplus of popular original content that debuted on the streaming service during the second fiscal quarter—which is historically a weak quarter for subscriber gains. This period saw the release of new seasons for 14 original series, 13 comedy specials, and nine feature films. And some investors expected the company to post surprisingly strong quarterly subscriber numbers, with the premiere of the original teen drama 13 Reasons Why, as well as the return of popular Netflix originals House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black.

As has been the case of late, the bulk of Netflix's subscriber growth came overseas (4.14 million new subscribers), while the company's domestic subscriber growth (1.07 million) was down 25% from the previous quarter, though up considerably from the same quarter last year. Netflix's domestic subscriber growth has slowed in recent years, placing that much more importance on the company's ability to continue picking up new customers in international markets. In the current quarter, Netflix expects to add another 4.4 million subscribers, with more than 82% of that total coming from overseas.

But to catch all these fish, Netflix is spending more than $6 billion on original content this year alone, up by $1 billion from last year. And the company seemingly has no plans to slow its spending on programming in the immediate future, as the search for further subscriber gains continues. And as the company's subscriber base has swelled, Netflix's spending has continued to climb. In the most recent quarter, Netflix reported a negative free cash flow of $608 million, with the company expecting that deficit to reach as much as $2.5 billion for the full year of 2017.

With rivals like Amazon and Hulu continually churning out more streaming content—and with companies like Apple jumping on the original programming bandwagon—Netflix clearly feels the need to outspend its competitors to continue adding subscribers around the world. After its strong second quarter, Netflix has now surpassed the symbolic 100 million subscriber mark. In April, the company took on an additional $1.1 billion in debt to fund its massive spending on content, and its long-term debt stood at $4.8 billion at the end of June. In order to keep paying that tab, the streaming video king simply must continue growing its audience.

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