Tag Archives: NFLX

Netflix’s Giant Ponzi Scheme

A colleague/friend asked today how I thought the “FANG saga” would end.  I replied that I don’t know about GOOG and FB, but AMZN is maybe worth $50/share as it burns cash every quarter despite manufacturing GAAP “net income” so it’s hard to tell for sure – it could be worth less.  NFLX is eventually going to have to restructure its debt, which means the equity is worth zero.

NFLX soared $50 after-hours today after it reported an earnings “beat” for its Q3.  But, per its statement of cash flows, NFLX’s operations burned $690 million for the quarter, 33% more than Q2 and nearly triple the operations cash burn in Q1.  For the first nine months of 2018, NFLX’s operations have incinerated $1.45 billion.   You can see the numbers here:  NFLX Q3 financial statements.  Note:  NFLX uses an unconventional method of reporting its financials, posting them to its website in a read-only spreadsheet format that makes it a pain in the ass to read and analyze the numbers.

How does NFLX manage to show positive net income yet burn hundreds of millions of dollars each quarter?  It’s the magic of GAAP accounting.  I did a detailed analysis for my Short Seller’s Journal subscribers last year.  Each quarter NFLX has to spend $100’s of millions on content.  Most companies like NFLX capitalize this cost and amortize 90% of the cost of this content over the first two years.   Amortizing the cost of content purchased is then expensed each quarter as part of cost of revenues.  Companies can play with the rate of amortization to lower the cost of revenues and thereby increase GAAP operating and net income.

Of course, the accounting “devil” is always in the details of the cash flow statement, which Wall Street, financial media and bubble-chasing stock jockeys never bother to read.  While NFLX shows increasing operating and net income each quarter on the income statement, it also shows a big increase in cash burn from operations each quarter.  The cash burn is from money spent on content.  The net income is generated by reducing the amount of content expense amortization each quarter relative to the amount spent on content each quarter.  Despite the stock market-charming earnings “beat” each quarter, NFLX’s cash outflow exceeds cash inflow each quarter.  In simple terms, NFLX is a giant Ponzi scheme.

In the analysis I did for my subscribers in July 2017, I demonstrated this accounting Ponzi mechanism:

The ratio of cash spent on content in relation to the amount recognized as a depreciation expense can be used to determine if NFLX is “stretching out” the amount depreciation recognized on its GAAP income statements in relation to the amount that it is spending on content. In general, this ratio should remain relatively constant over time.

For 2014, 2015 and 2016, this ratio was 1.42, 1.69 and 1.80 respectively. When this ratio increases, it means that NFLX is spending cash on content at a rate that is greater than the rate at which NFLX is amortizing this cash cost into its GAAP expenses. If NFLX were using a uniform method of calculating media content depreciation, this number should remain fairly constant across time. However, as content spending increases and GAAP depreciation declines relative to the amount spent, this ratio increases dramatically – as it has over the last three years. A rising ratio reflects the fact that NFLX has lowered the rate of depreciation taken in the first year relative to previous years. It does this to “manage” expenses lower in order to “manage” income higher.

In the first nine months of 2018, this ratio was 1.70, which explains largely why NFLX’s rate of GAAP “earnings” growth is declining.

To pay for its massive cash flow burn rate, NFLX has to continually issue more debt and stock.  Earlier this year NFLX issued nearly $2 billion in junk bonds.   For the full year 2014, NFLX had $5.5 billion in revenues, its operations generated positive $16.5 million in cash. The Company had $900 million in debt and $3 billion in non-current content liabilities.  Fast forward to Q3 2018.  The Company has $14.7 billion in LTM revenues and the operations incinerated $1.93 billion LTM.  NFLX has $8.3 billion in long term debt, and $8.1 billion in content liabilities.   Debt and content liabilities tripled.

Liabilities and debt obligations are growing faster than revenues and cash flow burn, the latter of which grows at a double-digit rate every quarter – sequentially.  Cash out is growing at a faster rate than cash in.  The difference is made up by borrowing from investors. This is the definition of a Ponzi scheme.

The problem with NFLX’s business model is that it keeps its subscription rate low enough to attract new subscribers every quarter at a rate that gives Wall Street and stock-jockeys a Viagra-induced erection.  But NFLX does not charge enough for its product to cover expenses.  If NFLX were to raise the cost of what it sells to a level that would cover its expenses, its subscriber-count would plunge.

NFLX exists thanks to the massive amount of money printed by Central Banks globally, which has injected more cash into the financial system than investors know what to do with.  That’s enabled NFLX to continue floating debt.  But this game is  coming to an end and it’s only a matter of time before NFLX stock  crashes and burns.

This is why insiders have been dumping stock indiscriminately.   They were unloading shares up until October 11 – three business days ago – presumably the last day before the earnings blackout.  I don’t care if the sales are “automatic.” If insiders thought the stock deserved to go higher, or was not going lower, they would turn off of the “automatic” sell switch. In the last three months alone, insiders have dumped over 400,000 shares and bought zero.  Follow the money…

Greatest Stock Bubble In History

Anyone who can’t see a dangerous bubble should not be managing, analyzing or trading stocks. Even Hellen Keller could figure out what is going here:

It’s not easy shorting the market right now – for now – but there have been plenty of short-term opportunities to “scalp” stocks using short term puts. I cover both short term trading ideas and long term positioning ideas.  You can learn more  about this newsletter here:      Short Seller’s Journal information.

“SSJ  provides outstanding practical advice for translating a company’s bottom line fundamentals into $$’s. Whether you’re a buy and hold long term investor or short term trader (or both), you’ll find all kinds of helpful advice on portfolio management, asset allocation and short term/long term options strategies. Really can’t recommend SSJ enough! Thanks Dave for your great service!” – subscriber “John”

Netflix And Amazon: Case Studies In Accounting Games

Over the time since I started the Short Seller’s Journal, several subscribers have asked about Netflix (NFLX). For some reason I have refrained from presenting it as a short idea, instead choosing AMZN and TSLA as my insanely overvalued “tech poison” short-sell ideas. However, knowing that NFLX was reporting this week, I decided what if – and really more like when – it spiked up on a headline “beat,” I would take a close look at the numbers to see what’s going on with NFLX accounting. Sifting through NFLX’s web of accounting chicanery took a lot longer than I anticipated…

As I expected, I found a company that pushes the envelope in an area of GAAP accounting in which there is substantial “grey” area that enables companies like NFLX to manufacture and manage reported GAAP net income. But NFLX bleeds cash, as I’ll show. The quote at the top summarizes the NFLX business model: it will burn cash “for many years.”

In a sense, NFLX is similar to a Ponzi scheme. As long as cash received in the form of revenues and stock or bond financing exceeds cash expense outflows each year, it can continue operating. But as soon as revenues decline or the capital markets refuse to give NFLX money, it will collapse. As you will see below, while NFLX is generating growth in its net income, the amount of cash burned by its operations has been increasing dramatically. And it has been financing this cash flow deficit with debt.

The above narrative is from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. I walked through the areas in which NFLX exploits grey areas in GAAP accounting rules to manipulate the cash flows from its business model (cash revenues minus actual cash expenses) in order present GAAP net income. The primary lever it uses is the guidelines (note: “guidelines” – not “rules”) for depreciating media capex. I show step-by-step how NFLX exploited the grey areas in GAAP to manufacture the $0.15 earnings per share it reported.

I also discussed strategies for shorting NFLX, which included shorting the stock outright and using puts. Subscribers who shorted NFLX on Monday morning this past week are green on their short positions. I also suggested capital management strategies.

This week I will be showing how to dissect the numbers AMZN must disclose in the footnotes to its 10-Q filing to see what’s really going on beneath the Jeff Bezos show. For instance Bezos opens his earnings presentation every quarter with a slide and a discussion of the “Free Cash Flow” produced my AMZN on an LTM basis. It’s the very first slide in the earnings call slide show. He’s now claiming LTM FCF of $9.7 billion.

BUT in the footnotes to the 10-Q – a place where no Wall Street analyst ever dares to venture, assuming they even know the footnotes exist – there’s a disclosure that explains that Jeff Bezos FCF is not GAAP FCF. Using GAAP, the Bezos FCF is reduced to $4.1 billion. I’m using ETIDA minus Capex minus Capital Lease Amortization payments. I even give him the benefit of adding back the non-cash share compensation portion of salary, which technically is not allowed in GAAP because share dilution is a form of cash use ultimately from the shareholders perspective. The $4.1 billion is GAAP free cash flow, not the Bezos bullshit FCF.

And not only that, but the AMZN core business model is starting to break down. But that analysis will be saved for this week’s Short Seller’s Journal.   Subscribers to the SSJ also get 50% off a subscription to the Mining Stock Journal.   Click here to learn more about the SSJ:   Short Seller’s Journal info.

Dave, just a moment for some feed back. I just placed and order for 1 oz gold eagles thanks to my profits off Tesla and BBBY. Thanks, as always. – Subscriber email received in early July