Streaming video veteran Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) reported fourth-quarter results on Tuesday night. The company beat Wall Street's expectations across the board, including in the all-important category of subscriber additions, and management noted that 2019 will go down in history as the year of peak cash burn for Netflix. Analysts followed up on this great report with a deluge of boosted price targets.
And how did the market react? Netflix shares closed Wednesday's trading session 4% lower, of course.
If you're not buying Netflix shares right now, I don't know what it would take to make you a buyer at any point in the future. This is a fantastic buying opportunity.
What's missing from the fourth-quarter report?
Netflix bears bemoaned a modest set of guidance targets for the first quarter and slowing growth in North America. The company set a lower bar for growth in the first half of 2020 because of turbulence from recent and upcoming launches of competing video-streaming services. There's no way to know exactly how these launches will affect Netflix's subscriber growth in the near term, other than actually watching the drama play out.
Otherwise, many critics like to lean on Netflix's sky-high valuation and complain that the business results are too weak to support those lofty stock prices.
What's wrong with those complaints?
Netflix's valuation ratios are indeed known to induce nosebleed in traditional value investors. But the company is pushing the accelerator as hard as it can right know to build the widest and most unassailable business moat it can before streaming video services take the baton from cable and satellite TV on a global level. It's all about building the largest possible subscriber base before turning down the advertising budget and focusing on bottom-line profits -- in a few years.
Let's imagine that Netflix flipped that switch right now. The company spent $2.7 billion on marketing in 2019. Cut that budget in half and you'll boost Netflix's earnings for the year by 70%. Making the same move would have doubled earnings in 2018. The year before that, the effect would have been a 114% bottom-line boost. The longer Netflix goes without making drastic changes to its expense structure, the closer it gets to achieving a similar earnings boost in an organic manner -- simply adding millions and millions of subscribers to balance out the rising ad budget and keep the growth trend alive.
What are you waiting for?
You gotta spend money now to make money later, you know. That's particularly true in high-growth situation like this one, where a new breed of streaming media companies are disrupting the linear TV industry -- and Netflix has been leading the charge since day one. And we haven't even talked about the long-term returns on investing lots of cash into original content of award-winning quality.
Netflix is building a long-term cash machine here. Value investors will come to appreciate it later but you can get started right now. Or maybe you've seen this growth story develop for years already, pocketing a 460% return in five years and a 4,400% boost over the last decade. In that case, just shrug your shoulders over Wednesday's 4% drop and continue to enjoy Netflix's wealth-building muscle for many years to come.