So Netflix (NFLX) has hit a growth wall. Evidently people just don’t have infinite resources to keep subscribing to every streaming channel. But is that a warning that global consumers are stretched to the breaking point?
I have to say it looks more like too many streaming channels and not enough people desperate to keep paying for Netflix content right now. That’s a problem for Netflix. It isn’t a red flag for the broader economy.
And if you’re collecting recession signals, I don’t think this headline qualifies. Netflix is one of the biggest technology companies around, but it’s still only a niche compared to true economic juggernauts . . . who aren’t worried at all.
The real headline today is that the CEO of Procter & Gamble (PG) just can’t see a recession on the horizon. He’s looking. The company is ready to invest resources to weather any consumption slowdown.
But from where he sits, global households and Americans in particular aren’t cracking under the weight of higher prices and rising interest rates. Spending remains robust.
He should know. Procter & Gamble swallowed roughly 9% higher costs in the last three months and passed 5% of that drag on to retail customers . . . who didn’t complain loud enough for anyone to hear.
Sales volumes are up everywhere but hair care products, which are still depressed as the lingering pandemic upsets supply chains. People are buying a lot more soap. They’re buying more baby supplies, more toothpaste, more lotion.
And those volumes are rising a net 3% from last year even when prices are up 5%. That’s not a sign of household budget constraints. It’s not necessarily a good thing in itself, but American families are clearly finding a way to keep up with necessities.
It is, however, a great thing for the company that makes the soap, the toothpaste, the lotion. That 3% uptick in sales volume turned into 4% profit growth, which is more than enough to maintain a staggering corporate budget.
Netflix is still considered a giant, but it still needs to struggle to spend more than about $14 billion a year on the content it needs to keep subscribers happy. Procter & Gamble pays its supplies twice that much without blinking.
Then it has about $4 billion allocated for ongoing improvements this year . . . and $18 billion for dividends and buybacks. Unlike Netflix, P&G knows it’s hit a limit. It’s unlikely to grow much more beyond ambient inflation.
Instead of throwing money at expansion opportunities, management is happy to engineer small improvements that generate a lot of free cash flow at this gigantic scale. Fractions of a percentage point can make shareholders extremely happy here.
Management sees good things ahead. When consumption slows down, they’ll let us know.
And I think the market should be cheering the news. A good headline for PG should outweigh a bad one from NFLX.
After all, PG is close to a $400 billion company. While I do not advise them to do it, they could probably find a way to buy NFLX outright if management saw the value.
Never forget that soap built much of the modern television industry. If the soap company wants to do it again, they’ll do it.
Right now, like other potential investors, they’re staying away from NFLX. They have better things to do. So do we.