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Netflix to Raise $1.6 Billion More Debt Financing to Fuel Content-Buying Binge

Netflix, as it signaled last week, on Monday announced plans to offer $1.6 billion in new debt to fund its expanded content budget for 2018.

In reporting third-quarter 2017 results last week, Netflix said it will spend between $7 billion and $8 billion on content (on a profit-and-loss basis) next year, up from a previous target of $7 billion. For 2017, original content will represent more than 25% of total programming spending, and that “will continue to grow,” Netflix said.

As part of its originals slate, Netflix expects to release around 80 films next year, according to chief content officer Ted Sarandos, up from about 50 this year.

The proposed debt offering would be Netflix’s biggest to date, and the fourth time in less than three years that it’s raised $1 billion or more through bonds. That included $1.4 billion (1.3 billion euros) in new debt financing this spring, after $1 billion in the fall of 2016 and $1.5 billion in February 2015. In addition, this summer Netflix took out a line of credit to borrow up to $750 million.

As of the end of Q3, Netflix reported $4.89 billion in debt (up from $3.36 billion at the end of 2016). The company currently has $17 billion in streaming-content commitments over the next few years, up from $14.4 billion for the year-ago quarter.

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Netflix’s thesis: maintain a high cash-burn rate now to acquire original content across a broad ranges of genres and formats (including in-language regional programming), in order to bring more subscribers onto its rolls — especially internationally. For Q3, Netflix topped expectations with 5.3 million net new subs, a third-quarter record for the company, to stand at 109 million worldwide.

In announcing Q3 results, Netflix told investors that it was looking to raise more debt: “We anticipate financing our capital needs in the debt market as our after-tax cost of debt is lower than our cost of equity,” the company said in its quarterly letter to shareholders.

As its debt load grows, Netflix is paying more to service that debt. It recorded $163 million in interest expenses for the first nine months of 2017, up 53% from the comparable period last year. Revenue over the first nine months of 2017 increased 32%, to $8.4 billion.

Netflix continues to operate with negative cash flow, which the company says it expects to continue for the next few years. Free cash flow in Q3 was -$465 million (vs. -$506 million in the year-earlier period). The company expects free cash flow to be between -$2.0 billion and -$2.5 billion for the full year 2017. Netflix is operating with negative free cash flow because it pays for titles before consumers watch the content, and the cost of those TV shows and movies are amortized by estimated viewing over time, according to the company.

Pictured above: Will Smith in action-thriller movie “Bright,” premiering on Netflix on Dec. 22, which had a reported production budget of $90 million.

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