Netflix Inc. (NFLX) reported its fourth-quarter results after markets closed on Thursday. Judging by the share price reaction, investors were not impressed with how the streaming giant ended 2018 and guided for its future.
The company’s stock fell 2.8% in after-hours trading, despite beating analyst forecasts in several areas. That tells us that investors, who bid the shares up roughly 50% since the start of the year, had been banking on an even better performance.
Here are some key takeaways from Netflix’s results:
Subscriber Numbers Continue to Swell
Investors and analysts keep close tabs on subscriber numbers, believing them to be a good indication of Netflix’s popularity amid rising competition and a key way to judge if its billions of dollars of investments are paying off.
The company didn’t disappoint in this area. Netflix added 8.8 million new paying subscribers during the final three months of 2018, comfortably beating its own estimates of 7.6 million.
Encouragingly, management expects to welcome a further 8.9 million subscribers in the first-quarter ending in March. Many of these new customers are forecast to come from international markets, although Netflix is equally confident that U.S. subscriber numbers will grow, in spite of its recent price increases.
Unfortunately, strong subscriber growth failed to boost the top-line enough. Revenues rose by 27.4% year over year when they were predicted to come in 27.8% higher.
Management blamed this miss on the U.S. dollar strength and warned of further challenges in the first few months of 2019. Netflix is now forecasting first-quarter revenues to rise 21% to $4.49 billion. Once again, that is lower than what analysts had penciled in, suggesting that currency and other headwinds will continue to eat into strong subscriber growth and the benefits of price increases.
Still Burning Cash
Investors also might have been disappointed to discover that recent price increases will not immediately ease Netflix’s controversial cash burn. The company had negative free cash flow of $3 billion last year and expects similar levels throughout 2019.
Netflix has long argued that its aggressive investments are necessary to drive membership and revenue growth. The streaming giant continued to take this tone during its results presentation.
New Chief Financial Officer Spence Neumann said during an earnings call that investments to own more content has “put pressure on the cash flows of the business and the cash needs of the business over the past few years,” according to CNBC. However, Neumann also claimed he’s confident that these investments will eventually pay off and that the company’s cash burn could drop off from 2020.