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Netflix Beefs Up Warchest With $2 Billion In New Debt

Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese on the set of "The Irishman" movie, one of Netflix's expensive Oscar-season releases.

Coming off a strong if not quite spectacular financial quarter, Netflix said it will issue another $2 billion in senior unsecured debt to the $8 billion it already has issued to help finance its heavy slate of programming.

“Amazing content can be expensive,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote to shareholders last week. “We don’t shy away from taking bold swings if we think the business impact will also be amazing. We don’t close every deal we chase and we don’t chase every deal on the table.”

Netflix also hasn’t been shy about loading up on debt to finance its programming spending, estimated to top $9 billion this year.

Company executives say that even high-interest debt is a cheaper way to finance production and acquisition of shows to compete with streaming newcomers such as Disney and Apple, which are both launching services in the next three weeks.

The latest quarterly results proved a return to form for Netflix, with nearly 7 million new subscribers, bringing the company’s worldwide total to about 158 million.

But the new competitors are already making numerous intriguing deals to grab a significant part of the Netflix audience.

Apple will give a free year’s subscription to everyone who buys a Mac, iPad or iPhone. That could add 100 million or more subscribers to the service in the next year, given that the company sold 280 million of those devices in 2018. The company also is reportedly considering offering a bundle of its TV+ and other subscription services, such as Apple Music or possible News+.

And Disney announced today that Disney+ will be bundled free for a year to the roughly 50 million people who have unlimited data deals with Verizon. T-Mobile, of course, has long bundled six months of Netflix to subscribers. Expect lots more of these kinds of deals as services look for novel ways to build a bigger subscriber base fast.

For Netflix, part of that plan will include more shows, of all kinds, from creators across the globe. That latest debt offering follows another $1.6 billion issuance earlier this year.

Before the latest announcement, the company had roughly $8.4 billion in outstanding debt. Long-term debt as a percentage of total capital has roughly doubled, to 65 percent, since the end of 2014.

The company continues to be generally well rated by brokerage houses, in part because that solid last quarter marks a return to its typical success in finding new subscribers, and in part because it is slowly reducing negative free cash flow, from $4 billion last year to $3 billion per year.

Netflix said it would use proceeds to fund “content acquisitions, production and development, capital expenditures, investments, working capital and potential acquisitions and strategic transactions.”

The company has begun rolling out the first of its Oscar contenders, beginning with Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, which debuted last weekend on the service itself after a short theater-only run designed to appeal to tradition-minded Oscar voters.

All told, the company plans to give 10 films with awards prospects similar short theatrical runs. The biggest contender will be Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, a classic mob film about the demise of Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa, featuring multiple Oscar-winning actors. The project cost a reported $160 million to make, in part because of visual effects to de-age stars Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro for numerous scenes.

The project proved too rich for Paramount, home of The Godfather trilogy, and Netflix took it over. It was latest and priciest of such deals between Netflix and traditional studios with troubled or overly expensive projects.