The world has changed so much in just a short few months. With consumers worldwide sequestered at home as part of efforts to quell the spread of COVID-19, Netflix (NFLX -1.78%) was one of the few companies positioned to provide a compelling catalog of in-home entertainment. So when the company reported its first-quarter earnings Tuesday afternoon, it wasn't too much of a surprise that the streaming giant revealed that viewers around the globe have flocked to its platform.
What was a bit surprising was just how many people sought refuge in streaming, though Netflix tried to temper investor enthusiasm by saying that some of the startling growth was likely pulled forward, resulting in slower growth rates in the future.
Even after a price boost of more than 35% year to date, Netflix stock edged higher in after-hours trading. Let's look at a few of the reasons that Netflix stock continues to trudge higher.
1. Revenue: $5.77 billion
In late January, Netflix forecast revenue of about $5.73 billion. Analysts' consensus estimates rarely stray far from management's guidance, but had ramped up to $5.76 billion in recent weeks after it became apparent that the stay-at-home orders were boosting subscriber growth.
In the shareholder letter, Netflix execs explained that revenue of $5.77 billion ended up largely in line with the company's guidance, due to the strength of the U.S. dollar appreciating against other currencies, resulting in a foreign currency headwind of about $115 million. Despite the uphill battle, the average revenue per user (ARPU) grew 8% year over year, showing the strong demand for in-home entertainment, though it declined sequentially from the 12% growth in Q4.
2. Earnings per share: $1.57
Netflix had guided for diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.66, more than double the $0.76 per share it generated in the prior-year quarter, but the company came in shy of that forecast. The shortfall was the result of operating margins of 16.6%, below the 18% Netflix was forecasting.
Management explained that the company incurred incremental costs of $218 million (a 3.8% impact on operating margin) as productions were paused due to the coronavirus, as well as the $150 million Netflix pledged to support workers within the film and television industry during the pandemic.
3. Global streaming subscribers: 183 million
Three months ago, when Netflix reported its fourth-quarter results, the company forecast 174 million total subscribers for the first quarter, an increase of 7 million, up 17% year over year. Even given the widespread stay-at-home orders, one of the most ambitious estimates on Wall Street came from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Matthew Thornton, who was projecting at least a 9.5 million increase.
Even that proved to be too conservative, as Netflix added a record 15.77 million net new subscribers, up 23% year over year, bringing the total to 182.86 million. During the first two months of the quarter, growth was largely in line with expectations, but with many countries implementing lockdown orders in March, Netflix experienced a huge surge in demand late in the quarter.
4. Original programming captivated viewers
In keeping with recent earnings reports, Netflix shared viewer numbers for a few of its most-watched programs.
The breakout hit of the first quarter was original movie Spenser Confidential, which garnered 85 million viewers in its first four weeks after release, while riveting docu-series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness attracted 64 million viewers. Love Is Blind, the company's reality dating program, attracted 30 million, while estimates for season four of the hit international series La Casa de Papel (aka Money Heist), which debuted in early April, clocked in at about 65 million.
5. Cash burn is slowing
Netflix management pointed out last quarter that its free cash flow (FCF) profile was already improving, but with production facilities shutdown worldwide due to the pandemic, the company saw drastic improvement during the quarter. Netflix generated FCF of $162 million during the quarter, compared with negative $460 million in the prior-year quarter.
Management has revised its full-year cash burn guidance, saying Netflix now expects FCF of negative $1 billion in 2020, an improvement compared to previous guidance of negative $2.5 billion, and negative $3.3 billion actual from 2019.
The improved cash flow this quarter helped boost cash on hand to $5.2 billion, with an untapped $750 million unsecured credit facility, leaving the company with more than 12 months of liquidity, an important consideration given the current environment.