For the most part, the market seems pleased with Netflix's (NFLX -0.83%) fourth-quarter update. Shares are up more than 4% since the company released its quarterly results earlier this week. The main highlight from the quarter was the streaming-TV giant's better-than-expected global subscriber growth.
As investors look over the results and consider the implications of the quarter's performance, here are some key takeaways from the quarter's earnings call.
This may be the worst of Netflix's FCF trends
One of the main criticisms investors have of Netflix is the big spending required to continue producing high-quality content that attracts and retains members. While investing in original content gives Netflix the benefit of owning its content in perpetuity, these investments have weighed on the company's free cash flow (FCF, defined as operating cash flow less capital expenditures). This was particularly the case in 2019. Free cash flow was negative-$3.3 billion -- worse than in any other year.
Fortunately, however, management said in its fourth-quarter shareholder letter that its free cash flow trends should only improve from here.
"Our plan is to continually improve FCF each year and to move slowly toward FCF positive," the company said.
For 2020, management said it expects free cash flow to improve to negative $2.5 billion.
Until it's free cash flow positive, Netflix will continue to finance its investment needs with low-interest senior notes. But as the company's free cash flow profile improves, Netflix will be less reliant on debt markets and will be able to fund more of its investment plans with cash from operations.
These are still early days for streaming
While management acknowledged that competition may have been one factor (along with the company's recent price increase in the U.S.) that played a role in elevated member churn domestically, management is still unfazed about an intensifying competitive environment. The company's resolve is partly due to Netflix's tenured experience in streaming but it's also a factor of the overall market opportunity.
"Many media companies and tech giants are launching streaming services, reinforcing the major trend of the transition from linear to streaming entertainment," management explained. "This is happening all over the world and is still in its early stages, leaving ample room for many services to grow as linear TV wanes."
Netflix is seeing impressive momentum internationally
Finally, investors should note that while subscriber growth is more modest in the U.S. and Canada -- with 550,000 net member additions during Q4 -- it is very strong outside of these markets.
"We generated Q4-record paid net adds in each of the EMEA, LATAM and APAC regions," Netflix said, referring to Europe, Middle East, and Africa; Latin America; and Asia-Pacific.
Overall, these quotes highlight some reasons for investors to remain optimistic about Netflix's long-term prospects, even as new streaming services come to market.