Netflix Inc. is selling junk bonds to pay for making more shows.
The world’s largest online television network sold $1.9 billion of senior bonds in its largest-ever dollar-denominated offering. That was up from a planned $1.5 billion, according to a statement Monday. The 10.5-year notes yield 5.875 percent, within the initially discussed range of 5.75 percent to 6 percent, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the details are private.
Netflix’s sale follows a quarter in which it added 7.41 million subscribers, its strongest start to a year since going public 16 years ago. Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the company’s credit ratings earlier this month, citing expectations that growth will continue and eventually turn its cash flows positive. In an April 13 report, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Stephen Flynn said the upgrade may give Netflix the support to sell $2 billion of bonds to boost liquidity and pay for rising programming costs.
Even with a better credit rating, Netflix is still a junk-rated issuer whose operations continue to burn through cash. That hasn’t seemed to bother debt investors too much, who have proven willing time and time again to lend to the company as it invests in programming to fuel subscriber growth, according to Rahim Shad, a senior analyst in high-yield credit research at Invesco Ltd.
“Of course there’s the massive cash burn, just ignore that for a second. The rest of the story is doing something that’s quite unique — subscriber growth and ASP growth,” Shad said, referring to average selling price. “Netflix is essentially in its own league.” He was speaking before the bonds were sold.
A representative for Netflix didn’t return a call seeking comment.
S&P Global Ratings graded the bonds B+, four steps below investment grade. As Netflix continues to invest, free cash flow deficits should surpass $3 billion in 2018, S&P said.
The proceeds of the offering will be used for general corporate purposes, which may include adding content, production and development as well as potential acquisitions, the Los Gatos, California-based company said in its statement. In this case, once sold, the bonds can’t be bought back by Netflix.
Not all investors were interested in the sale. With a maturity of 10.5 years, the bonds are heavily exposed to further rises in interest rates, said John McClain, a portfolio manager at Diamond Hill Capital Management. An 8-year security with similar initial price talk would have been more attractive, he said, speaking before the notes had been sold.
“There will be a better entry point into this,” possibly closer to when the 10-year Treasury nears 3.25 percent, McClain said. “Netflix can’t control where interest-rate expectations are, but they waited until they printed a good quarter and that was the right thing to do.”
With a stock market value of around $140 billion and the best-performing stock in the S&P 500 this year, Netflix has often touted its “thick” equity cushion as reason to buy its debt. It’s historically borrowed to invest in original content and plans to continue to do so, according to a statement to shareholders last week. Debt financing is cheaper than equity, it said.
Netflix had $6.5 billion of long-term debt as of March 31, $1.6 billion of which came from its largest-ever dollar-denominated sale in October. Its debt was 7.4 times Ebitda, or earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, according to Moody’s, which uses adjusted figures for the twelve months ended March 31. It should drop to “comfortably” under 5 times by the end of 2020 as Netflix continues to boost subscribers and revenue, Moody’s analyst Neil Begley said in an April 11 report.
Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Deutsche Bank AG and Wells Fargo & Co. managed the sale, one of the people said.
–With assistance from Gowri Gurumurthy
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