With the coronavirus and volatile markets dominating headlines, it's easy to forget that earnings season is just around the corner. Companies will soon be reporting their first-quarter results, as well as providing investors a window into Q2. For most companies, the major theme will be updating investors on the financial damage that travel restrictions, closures, and stay-at-home orders have done to their businesses. But not all companies will be hurt by these unusual times. Indeed, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) will likely see a boost in streaming hours and subscribers as people around the world are staying home to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Always one of the first megacaps to report earnings every quarter, Netflix will release its first-quarter results on April 21.
Here's what investors should look for when the update goes live.
In Q4, Netflix added 8.8 million new subscribers -- over a million more than it had guided for. This was impressive considering both Apple and Walt Disney launched streaming services during the quarter.
In Q1, Netflix management guided for more robust member growth. Management said it expected to add 7 million new subscribers during the period. Investors, however, are likely expecting actual subscriber additions to be above this figure. As Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger said in a note to investors on Wednesday, the company will likely see reduced subscriber churn, an increase in new subscribers, and higher average revenue per user as a result of more people staying at home. Of course, since there is a free trial period for new Netflix users before they become subscribers, the coronavirus' impact on the quarter may be small. After all, the COVID-19 outbreak didn't spread beyond China until the second half of Q1.
Another key metric Netflix investors keep a close eye on is the streaming specialist's operating margin, or its operating profit as a percentage of revenue. This metric has steadily risen every year, but it can be more volatile on a sequential basis.
For the full year of 2019, Netflix's operating margin was 13%, up from 10% in 2018. For the first quarter of 2020, however, management expects the metric to come in much higher at 18%. But Netflix is targeting 16% for the full year.
Investors should look for Netflix not only to hit its quarterly target for operating margin but also to reaffirm its full-year outlook for a 16% operating margin. It's important that Netflix continues to demonstrate operating leverage in order for investors to keep buying into the company's cash-burning strategy of spending heavily on content today for a payoff in the future.
Guidance is key
Perhaps the item investors will be watching the closest is guidance. With the coronavirus pandemic still keeping people at home in many countries around the world, will Netflix guide for a spike in subscribers?
In the second quarter of 2019, Netflix added 2.7 million members -- significantly lower than member additions in the other three quarters. This was due primarily to a weak slate of new content during the period. With such a weak year-ago comparison and given a likely catalyst from more consumers staying at home, it wouldn't be surprising for Netflix to guide for substantially more new subscribers in the second quarter of 2020 compared with net additions in the year-ago period.
Netflix will report its first-quarter results after market close on Tuesday, April 21.