Thursday morning brought modest gains to Wall Street as investors celebrated some progress on the global geopolitical front. Officials from the U.K. and the European Union agreed to a tentative Brexit deal, setting the stage for a more orderly economic separation of the two entities than many had feared would eventually happen. As of just before 11 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was up 80 points to 27,082. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) rose 13 points to 3,003, and the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) climbed 31 points to 8,156.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, third-quarter earnings season continued to move forward. Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) reported results that largely calmed frayed nerves about the streaming video giant's prospects for future growth. However, even though Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) was able to deliver solid bottom-line performance in the third quarter, the tobacco giant made a guidance cut for the full year that reflected a dispute it's had with the Russian government.
Netflix ups its game
Netflix shareholders celebrated the company's third-quarter financial results, sending the stock higher by 8% Thursday morning. After fears that the streaming video giant might be losing its edge, investors were happy to see signs of strength from Netflix's numbers.
Revenue in the third quarter jumped 31% year over year, and net income soared 65% from last year's figures, lifted in part by a one-time positive currency-related adjustment. Operating income doubled, approaching the $1 billion mark.
Yet the most important number in many investors' minds was subscriber growth, and there, the company bounced back from tepid performance earlier this year. Netflix added 6.8 million subscribers globally, and although that was less than the 7 million that the company itself had predicted, it was still a nice bump higher from the 6.1 million subscribers it added last year and the 2.7 million growth figure from three months ago.
The big test for Netflix will come later this quarter, when rival streaming content platforms from key players in the industry become available. Investors are still concerned that cheaper alternatives could put pressure on Netflix's pricing power, and that could create new challenges for the company. Shareholders liked the comments that executives made about how it will face its competitive threats, and now they'll have to wait and see whether Netflix can remain the undisputed leader of the streaming space.
Philip Morris sends some mixed signals
Shares of Philip Morris International were up 2% after the international tobacco giant released its third-quarter financial results. The stock's move reflected several positives in the report, but there were also some troubling aspects to the news that could weigh on Philip Morris' long-term prospects.
Overall, revenue climbed 1.8%, with the strong U.S. dollar cutting currency-adjusted sales growth almost in half. Adjusted earnings per share fell 0.7% year over year, although after accounting for some changes in corporate structure and financial reporting, what Philip Morris referred to as "like-for-like basis" numbers came in up almost 6%. The company continued to see a big dichotomy between its two major business segments, as cigarette volume was down nearly 6% from last year's numbers while sales of its IQOS heated-tobacco system soared nearly 85%.
The most unusual aspect of Philip Morris' results came from Russia, as the tobacco giant had to take a $0.20-per-share charge against earnings because of claimed underpayments of excise and value-added taxes. The company's Philip Morris Izhora affiliate is looking at challenging the assessment, but the parent chose to take the charge anyway to reflect what it sees as its maximum exposure.
Partly in response, Philip Morris cut its earnings guidance for 2019, but it still expects adjusted bottom-line growth of 9% from 2018 levels. As the company and partner Altria Group move forward with the long-awaited introduction of IQOS to the U.S. market, however, many investors will keep their eyes on Philip Morris to see whether the heated-tobacco system spurs new growth for the tobacco industry.