Media

Will Icahn Sell Netflix, or Will Netflix Now Raise Cash?

Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) has been the comeback kid in media and online entertainment. The subscription movie and media player has rendered Blockbuster and other business models irrelevant, and now its entrance into making its own content is only adding that much more demand to the subscription service. The problem is that things are getting almost too good, and CEO Reed Hastings even referred to this as a euphoria.

We do not know what Carl Icahn’s real position is in this stock at the moment, but things have rallied so far and so fast that he may already have started unloading his position. We also cannot help but wonder if Netflix should use the euphoria to raise capital to bolster its books for the years ahead.

It was in troubled times that Icahn bought Netflix shares. The stock likely was down under $70, or even less than $60, when the activist investor decided to jump in. The logic was simple enough that the company still had the best shot of all independent companies to being a workaround to cable and satellite providers, and there was even talk that Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) or another buyer would surface if things became too bad. Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for its newspaper and digital assets. Imagine owning a locked-in 30+ million movie and film subscribers paying monthly subscriptions, and then adding all the sell-through possibilities. Still, that was an opportunity that likely has come and gone, now that Netflix is worth more than $20 billion.

Is it a coincidence that Icahn Enterprises L.P. (NYSE: IEP) has hit a new multiyear high? It is now worth more than $10 billion, and Icahn has been on a roll here, even if he lost in the Dell buyout.

Netflix delivered handily with its earnings report on Monday. Unfortunately, CEO Hastings also referred to the exponential rise in Netflix’s stock price as one of a euphoria in the company’s post-earnings discussion. And now Yahoo! Finance’s homepage is running a story called “Worried About Netflix’s Sky High Stock Price? So Is Reed Hastings” on Tuesday. These are the sort of things that may mark a top on a trading basis, even if the stock can keep chugging ahead after the dust settles.

If you were Icahn and you had a paper profit of $1 billion back in May when the stock was around $230, what do you do when you see the stock up at $360, $370 or $380? At some point, it is time to at least lock in some profits, even if you let the rest ride. If Icahn has truly held his shares, then he would be up somewhere around 300% or 400%, depending on his true cost basis.

Taking the cost basis and locking in some profits here now still allows Icahn to have serious influence if he wants, but he would be playing with the house’s money. Icahn Enterprises L.P. (NASDAQ: IEP) was up 1.2% at $94.27 on last look, but the units hit a new multiyear high of $96.23 on Tuesday morning. That compares to a 52-week low of $37.22.

Netflix shares were still up 2% at $362.50, but shares were up at $389.16 at one point Tuesday morning, and shares were trading at or above the $390 mark in the after-hours session on Monday following the earnings report. Netflix is now worth more than $21 billion, and it still has billions of future liabilities considered “off balance sheet” for the content license fees that will be coming down the road.

Would Hastings pull an Elon Musk maneuver here? If you do not know what that is, it is simply a huge capital raise. Hastings would make many new shareholders very upset, but raising a few billion in new equity would solidify the company’s balance sheet for years and years.