In this episode of Motley Fool Money, Chris Hill chats with Motley Fool analysts Jason Moser and Andy Cross about the latest business headlines. They discuss the shifting landscape of digital ads. Find out how the rise in cooking at home is helping some businesses. They’ve also got some apparel and restaurant news, some stocks to put on your radar, a look at Amazon and Zoox, and much more.
Plus, Chris chats with awarding-winning The Atlantic writer Olga Khazan about how an outsider can thrive in an insider world, which is the topic of her first book.
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool’s free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on June 26, 2020.
Chris Hill: Last year [Alphabet‘s] Google, Facebook, (NASDAQ:FB) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) took in more than 60% of all digital ad spending in the U.S., but this year Google is expected to see a drop in its ad revenue for the first time in more than a decade. This is according to a report by eMarketer, a research firm that’s been tracking ad spending since 2008. And, Jason, I’ll just start with you, Google is expected to bounce back in 2021, but in the near-term they are giving up market share to their two biggest competitors.
Jason Moser: Yeah, that’s certainly a projection, now if that actually ends up being the case, I guess we have to wait and see there, it does make sense to a degree. Though, when you’re the king of the hill for so long, you kind of unfortunately have [laughs] nowhere to go but down at some point or another. And this has obviously been a unique circumstance for all advertisers.
I think it was interesting that this projection was made taking into consideration the challenge that Facebook is dealing with right now in this growing boycott of Facebook platforms, just based on what they’re allowing on their platform and fact checking and whatnot. We’re seeing more brands step up and actually join this boycott of advertising on Facebook platforms, now how long that ultimately lasts is anyone’s guess. I mean, I suspect at some point or another, you know, listen, money talks, right, so that probably will dictate some of Facebook’s policy going forward. But I think you do make a good point there. Longer-haul, this is not something that’s indicative of a dwindling platform or a platform losing relevance. Let’s remember they have nine different platforms, nine different services that have 1 billion or more users each. And given the utility of all of the services that Google and Alphabet offer, I tend to feel like that’s going to help them come through this relatively unscathed. But in the near-term there are some question marks, no doubt.
Andy Cross: And, Chris, I think this point a little bit to the types of clients that Google uses, and Alphabet uses, across their platform. You said 60%, that still means there’s 40% of the revenue pie out there that hopefully could benefit companies like The Trade Desk, and Roku, Rubicon, advertising platforms that are helping other publishers, other connected TV advertisers, reach audiences in ways they couldn’t do before. So, maybe it opens up a little bit more of an opportunity for those companies, but I think it speaks a little bit more toward some of the struggles that the larger Google clients, like, Booking.com or the travel companies or maybe some of the finance companies find themselves in with the COVID lockdown.
Moser: Yeah, I’m glad Andy mentioned travel there, because you do see Facebook and Google. I mean, they certainly benefit a lot from travel and restaurants, things of that nature. Look toward the smaller players in this space, I mean, this collective of companies like Twitter, and Snap and Pinterest. And Pinterest even noted in their latest call that some of the most impacted verticals in the ad space, like, travel and automotive and restaurants, they were significantly impacted, but for Pinterest itself, they’re relatively small exposure, that’s not really the lion’s share of the ad spending on the Pinterest platform. So, they’re going to be a little bit more immune to that. Now, that’s not to say that Pinterest is something that the folks at Alphabet or Facebook need to keep in the rearview mirror, I mean, there’s clearly a big size difference there, but it just does go to show that that there are some platforms that cater certain advertising markets better than others. And it seems like, at least in this case, Pinterest might be a little bit immune to some of that drop, whereas Facebook and Google clearly are going to be very exposed to things like travel and restaurants. And those are the two industries that have really been impacted the most here in this shutdown and subsequent slow reopening.
Hill: Amazon stock hit a new all-time high this week, and the company apparently celebrated by buying Zoox, a self-driving start-up company. They’re paying just over $1 billion, Andy; and obviously they can afford it. Does this make sense for Amazon?
Cross: Yeah, I think it does, Chris. So, you mentioned Amazon has this budding advertising business, but we know that’s a small part of their business and really the commerce side is much bigger. So, they are buying Zoox. They didn’t disclose the price, there were some reports that’s about $1.2 billion; that’s 1.5 more than they spent for Kiva Systems, which is the robotics company, the warehouse robotics company, they bought in 2012. Amazon doesn’t make very big acquisitions, Chris. They tend to make these right around the $1 billion, minus, the Whole Foods acquisition for about $14 billion; which was by far, I think, their biggest one.
Jeff Wilke, the Amazon Worldwide Consumer Director, in the press release, said that Zoox is working to imagine, invent and design a world-class autonomous ride-hailing experience. And that is something, when you think about distribution platforms, you think about the massive logistics network that Amazon has to manage and run and is becoming so sophisticated in that, especially using technology something like Zoox, that is right now they’re struggling a little bit. They were valued at more than maybe $3 billion a couple of years ago. And they’ve kind of had some struggles, one of their founders left. And they had some struggles with Tesla on the IP acquisition front of some employees who left Zoox to go to Tesla. So, they struggled a little bit.
Now, Amazon comes in with this massive opportunity for them to invest and for Zoox to take their technology and invest into the Amazon platform. So, for Amazon, such a small little bet into a massive opportunity for them.
Hill: Shares of McCormick (NYSE:MKC) hit a new all-time high this week after second quarter profits for the spice-maker came in much higher than expected. And, Jason, with the rise in cooking at home, I can’t imagine you’re surprised by this.
Moser: [laughs] Not terribly. I mean, this was another impressive quarter for McCormick this go around. And I think we’re seeing that the company’s diverse customer base really helps it weather the storm during times like these. Actually, flourish in some cases. So, you could see weakness in one area of the business actually made up for with strength in another. I was really impressed — I mean, 10% sales growth for a company like this over the quarter. They chalked up 5% annualized growth over the last five years so that was significant.
And it’s really because of the obvious suspect, more people are cooking at home. They’re seeing organic searches to McCormick.com up over 2% versus a year ago. You know, I’ve told you about that Flavor Maker app, right, Chris. I mean this thing is pretty amazing. You can actually scan your McCormick spices that are in your cabinet into your phone, so you get a virtual spice cabinet. Now, when you’re at the store, you never have to ask your question, do I still have that garlic powder? Am I out of oregano, you know? So, they’re attacking the tech side too.
And, again, to the diversity of the business model, they have the Flavor Solutions, which is that food service and packaged foods, restaurants and whatnot. It’s around 40% of revenue, 30% of operating profit, they’re feeling a little weakness on the food service side of the business, clearly making up for it in the stores with consumers.
I think that as we get down the road here and we see restaurants start to open back up, they’re seeing the trend, especially in quick service restaurants, that traffic is starting to pick back up. So, I imagine you take some of that strength over these past few quarters in the home, some of that strength may go back into the bucket of the Flavor Solution side of the business. But any which way you cut it, that’s the beauty of it, it’s a diverse, strong, setup business here with a lot of different brands in the portfolio. And I suspect we’ll see them add a few more here as time goes on.
Hill: I’m going to burst your bubble just a little bit, because you’ve been saying for years that McCormick is one of those businesses that is a Warren Buffett type of business. And when we talk about the huge amount of cash that Berkshire Hathaway has on their balance sheet, what can they go out and buy. For years now, you’ve put forth McCormick like, look, this is — and I’m not saying you’re wrong, but what I am saying is that, this is now a $24 billion company. [laughs] Buffett is not buying McCormick at this price.
Moser: He’s obviously either not listening to Motley Fool Money or he’s just throwing my advice to the side there. You know, I can’t figure that out, what in the world does Heinz have that McCormick — what crap, give me a break. I mean, listen, you want to talk about Steady-Eddie, McCormick is your business. Mr. Buffett, please, it’s still not out of the realm of possibility, fire that elephant gun if you want. Hey, let it go on its own, I don’t mind hanging on to my shares and just letting that dividend aristocrat keep paying me for owning.
Hill: Nike (NYSE:NKE) is one of the strongest brands in apparel retail, but even that couldn’t prevent Nike from posting a loss in the fourth quarter. Overall revenue fell 38%, and, Andy, their margins are taking a hit too.
Cross: Yeah, they are, like, 20-year lows, I think, on the gross margin side. So, I guess we couldn’t be too surprised by this kind of quarter. They had talked in the last quarter how they were kind of like foreseeing this because of their experience in China. And they, kind of, had a plan on how to go about thinking about reopening the stores. About 90% of all the stores outside of China, Chris, were closed for eight weeks during the quarter. By the way, this quarter goes March, April, May, so this is really in the heart of the lockdown. So, revenues in the U.S. were down 46%, down 44% in Europe, a little uptick in China. And then the earnings and the gross margins, inventories exploded more than 30% as the wholesale business really shut down. But what was really interesting, and this gets back to what Jason was saying with McCormick, is like we have seen with Starbucks, like we’ve seen with Walmart, Nike is making an investment, a huge investment, in technology.
John Donahoe who comes from Bain, and came over from ServiceNow has a real technology edge. He says, the digital sales, simply put, we will be more aggressively leveraging technology to make Nike better. The digital sales were up 75% for the quarter that’s versus up 47% for the entire fiscal year. 30% of all sales now are tied to their digital ecosystem. They expect that to go to 50% eventually in a couple of years; that’s way ahead of schedule. So, they are making this investment in digital into their applications, into their entire sales experience in a very aggressive manner. And that’s really the future for Nike.
Hill: Nike stock is down about 5% on Friday after this report. I get the concern, but I also have a hard time believing that Nike is not going to work their way out of this.
Cross: I agree. Those experiences where Nike has hit these road bumps, nothing like this we’ve seen, but they’ve hit these bumps with inventory management brands, some PR challenges they’ve had, obviously, they’ve been tied into a lot of the social justice initiatives recently, they’re making a lot of investments in that regard.
Long-term, talk about your, kind of like, long-term compound growth, and Nike is an awfully large company right now, but think about the growth potential and the execution. And with John Donahoe at the lead, I really like what he’s going to bring to Nike here. And so, if you’re looking to buy a stock on a little bit of a dip, Nike is a good one to go with.
Hill: Shares of Darden Restaurants up this week, the parent company of Capital Grille, LongHorn Steakhouse and, of course, Olive Garden, wrapped up the fiscal year with a loss in the fourth quarter that really wasn’t quite as bad as Wall Street was expecting, Jason.
Moser: No, it wasn’t. You know, I’m not an investor in Darden, but it’s clear to see that leading up to this year, shareholders in the last five years, have been feeling really good about things. I mean, all things considered, I think the company has managed their way through this crisis pretty well, part of the diversity is in their offerings. But I’d tell you, when you go through that call, the earnings call, there was a real sense that management is playing offense here. I mean, they are not in a state of defense. And when you look at some of the numbers, I mean, 91% of their dine-in restaurants have reopened with some capacity, now, this is mostly an Olive Garden and LongHorn story, right, they are the gist of the business.
But go-to sales remain elevated. When you look at Olive Garden to-go sales approximately doubled pre-COVID averages; LongHorn more than tripled. The one thing management kept going back to was this competitive advantage in scale. They see scale as this massive advantage. And going forward, they see this landscape with fewer restaurants, they feel like they have this opportunity to get in there, open restaurants, even in a time of uncertainty, just to get that footprint in there and gain that share. And I think, ultimately, that probably will serve them pretty well, because they are able to utilize that to-go model until things get back to normal.
They’re doing a smart job keeping cash conserved, they’ve suspended the dividend, they will not restore until they see fit. But they plan to open 35 to 40 new stores here for this coming year, they feel really good about it. So, like I said, management seems to be playing offense, and that could work out really well for them.
Hill: I sort of did a double-take when I saw that plan to open that many new locations, but given what we’ve seen in terms of other restaurants really struggling, it may be an opportunity for them to pick up some real estate on the cheap.
Moser: Yeah, I agree. Again, I think this really does all go back to the fact that they’re as big as they are now, they are as diverse as they are now, and then they look at this restaurant landscape, which is already so difficult, really, to manage in good times, they see that scale and their resources, and their expertise as a real advantage here. So, I think they’re trying to double-down on that and get that market share while it’s still out there and available.
Hill: Albertsons (NYSE:ACI), the operator of various supermarket brands across America, went public on Friday. The stock was initially priced in the range of $18 to $20, but went public at $16. That’s basically where it stayed on Friday. Andy, if ever a supermarket was going [laughs] to do well in an IPO, I felt like this was the time.
Cross: Well, Chris, and their business is doing well. In March and April, their sales were up 34% over last year. So, obviously, a lot of momentum is going in there. This is one that I’m not touching. Cerberus, which is a venture capital private equity firm, bought it years ago, and now is trying to get out of their shares, trying to cash out of part of their holding, they will still hold about 30%, north of 30% of the shares going forward after this. The company is not actually going to benefit from the sale of the shares, they will all go to be able to provide liquidity for the private equity firm.
So, I mean, you think about Albertsons owns Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, a few other, they have a meal kit company as well too. But obviously, some concerns about the long-term viability of their grocery stores; it’s very razor-thin margin. The amount of debt they’re carrying is still extensive. They have more than $8 billion of just long-term debt, so it’s probably about half their capital base. So, it’s highly leveraged, it’s thin margins, long-term growth prospects, very competitive business, it’s still a very hard investment for me to get my hands around. Obviously, right now, things are looking very good with the restaurant business, but it won’t always be like that.
Hill: Well, and it’s also interesting to see that the IPO market is opening back up again. I mean, you go back a couple of months, I thought we were done with IPOs for the year. I mean, Albertsons isn’t doing well, but between this and some of the reports we’ve heard about Airbnb maybe getting back into it, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the second half of the year.
Cross: Yeah, I think it’s starting to ramp up, I think there was talk about Peter Thiel’s Palantir maybe looking at an IPO. So, it definitely shut down, rightly so in the last couple of months, but it’s warming back up, Chris.
Hill: There is a name at the intersection of restaurants and entertainment, a name known to tens of millions of parents across America, I’m referring, of course, to the name Chuck E. Cheese. This week, Chuck E. Cheese filed for bankruptcy, Apollo Global Management is the PE firm that owns Chuck E. Cheese. This is a private equity firm that says they’re fielding offers. Either one of you guys want to buy Chuck E. Cheese, just for the sake of nostalgia or maybe your own real estate play?
Moser: I’m going to have to take a big fat pass on that one, Chris. I mean, I wouldn’t want to set foot in one of those restaurants in the healthiest of times, pre-COVID days, going forward I think the hurdle is — I mean, the hurdle has gotten higher for every restaurant, but for Chuck E. Cheese, it’s higher by a factor of 10. I mean, it’s just a really difficult place to manage, to keep clean. I mean, it’s seemingly a great place for kids to go have fun, but as a parent, man, it’s a miserable experience, I just don’t understand how this thing has made it this far, but, hey, maybe someone out there knows something I don’t. Chances are good that’s the case.
Hill: Recently I got the chance to talk with Olga Khazan, an award-winning writer at The Atlantic. She’s out with her first book entitled, Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World. It is a topic that is close to Olga’s heart, because, well, she’s always felt like she was different from those around her, starting when she was a little girl, and her family moved from Russia to Midland, Texas.
Olga Khazan: That was definitely the first time I realized that I am different and that I didn’t have any natural, kind of, commonalities with the people around me, you know. And that really persisted my entire childhood. But the book isn’t just about kids who feel different, it’s really about people who feel different at different points in their life. And, in fact, most of the people that I interviewed are adults who just happen to have a different gender or gender identity or political orientation or religious views than people who surround them. And so, they are fish out of water. And even though I am not, maybe as fish out of watery in Washington DC as I was in Midland, to me, this is a message that really resonates. And, of course, the things that happen to you in childhood stay with you. So, you know, those experiences of being very different from everyone around me definitely colored the rest of my adult life even though it wasn’t as extreme as it was when I was a child.
Hill: Well, and one of the things you get to in the book that I think applies to the business world in a really wonderful way, is almost this sense that we need weird people, like, we need the weirdos, because they’re the ones who are pushing the boundaries. And especially when it comes to creativity, like that just seems like something that comes up over and over in your book, just sort of the people who are weird or outsiders and think differently about the world, they’re usually the ones in the conference room, who are going to come at the problem in a different way.
Khazan: That’s exactly right. One of the most poignant examples of this in the book that I write about is this experiment that was done by these professors at Johns Hopkins, where they invited these volunteers into a lab and then they told half of them that they were rejected, they were not picked to work as part of the group. So, they made them feel, kind of, like outsiders or, kind of, not fitting in. And then they had everyone draw aliens that were from a planet not like our own. So, try to draw an alien that’s from a totally different planet. And it turned out that the weirdos, the rejected people, drew more creative aliens, as rated by this, kind of, separate panel.
So, while the included participants drew Martians, you know, like Marvin the Martian who is a traditional looking, what you would think of as an alien. The rejected participants drew aliens that look completely different than that standard look. So, they had maybe all of their appendages sticking out of one side of their body or they had their eyes below their feet or something like that. So, you can really see, and this is something that’s been shown not just in lab experiments but in real life, how being different or not being immediately accepted by your group can lead to creativity.
Hill: Well, and another thing you write about is the theory called Solomon’s Paradox. I was reading a study recently about people who have home improvement projects and how basically they always think that someone else’s home improvement project is going to take more time than they’re told and it’s going to cost more money, but when it comes to their own home improvement projects, they think, no, this is going to be fine, this is going to be under budget, this is going to be on-time. And Solomon’s Paradox is really, sort of, you know, flipping that about how, like, in a way people are better at solving other people’s problems. So, it’s almost like, to the extent possible, you have to have an outsider’s perspective to help yourself.
Khazan: Yeah. So, this is from part of the book where I talk about strategies to deal with this feeling of being different or not being included or just not having a lot of friends, it’s where I talk about how to think about your problems in a new way or to reconfigure your own experience in your head so that the story that you’re telling yourself is not as negative. So, yeah, you’re right that there’s a lot of research that shows that thinking about your problems from a third-person perspective can help you make a better decision or just, kind of, see the light at the end of the tunnel where you weren’t able to before.
It could be as simple as, instead of saying, like, I need to decide what to do, say to yourself, like, Olga needs to decide what she’s going to do. And this can be really helpful in a number of experiences, I write about it as applied to people who had a big crisis in their lives because they were different and they felt this extreme alienation from other people around them, but you could also use this if you’re deciding between two different jobs or two different places to live or, you know, something else where you have to, kind of, give yourself advice. And the best way to think of it, really, is as you’re giving yourself advice, because people tend to provide better advice when they think of themselves as a different person, because it just helps remove you from that immediate situation that you’re too close to.
Hill: One of the things that I want to get to in a few minutes is, sort of, your thinking on the current environment for businesses and, in particular, for offices. Which, before the pandemic, people actually used to get together in offices and work in the same place at the same time. But one of the things you get at, in the book is, sort of, outsiders coming into an office and, sort of, that — I don’t want to call it a tightrope, but although for some people it might be but, sort of, the balance that some of the people that you’re write about, try to strike between maintaining their individuality but also wanting to feel accepted at a workplace.
Khazan: Yeah, totally. This is a quandary that a lot of the people that I interviewed ran into. So, one really poignant example of this was a very liberal professor who teaches gender studies at this university in the most conservative politically congressional district in America, which is Wichita Falls, Texas or the area surrounding it. So, this professor was there and she was trying to teach her gender studies class. And it was really difficult because everything she brought up, she would be like, feminism, let me tell you all about it. And the kids would be like, that’s not a real thing or, [laughs] you know, they would respond to her with teachings from the Bible. And this was also, kind of, the early years, this was, you know, a couple of decades ago, so people weren’t as « woke » as they may be now. And so, she was really struggling.
So, what she used is this strategy called idiosyncrasy credits that a lot of social scientists recommend which is where you conform it first and then you let loose your weirdness or your nonconformity. So, you start off with agreeing to things that maybe don’t matter to you as much or that it’s small potatoes to you to just go along with it.
So, let’s say I started a new job and I have a really interesting idea for a project in six months. Maybe right now I, you know, play along [laughs] with whatever everyone else says, so whatever their ideas are, I’m like, « Yeah, sure, » « Okay, yeah, » « I’ll do that, yeah, » « Yeah, no problem, » and then six months goes by and I kind of form myself, created myself as this insider, I’ve made myself seem like I totally can conform with whatever the office wants to do. And people trust me more, so they want to follow me, they want to let me let loose my ideas. So, at that point I might say, hey, you know what, I have this really great idea for this special project, and people are more likely to buy it because they already see me as one of them instead of someone who’s kind of an interloper coming in.
So, similarly, this professor that I interviewed, what she would do is she would start out with topics that are not as threatening. So, she would start out by talking about masculinity, for example, which is something that a lot of the men, you know, kind of like conservative leaning men in her class might embrace a little bit better than the glass ceiling. And then she would kind of like, once she established some buy-in and got them to understand a little bit where she was coming from, she would kind of slowly ease her way into some of the more challenging topics and gender studies. So, that’s one way she was able to use idiosyncrasy credits in order to present her ideas that were very challenging to the norms of this environment.
Hill: Well, and one of the examples that you used with idiosyncrasy credits involves The Beatles, which I feel like I know a decent amount about The Beatles, but I had never thought of them through this lens before and, sort of, the math that you cite [laughs] regarding their catalog of music was pretty eye-opening.
Khazan: Yeah, I’m trying to pull up the exact stat. So, The Beatles used this because they were actually a very raucous and not very polished band when they were first starting out. They actually had to get that clean look, that, sort of, the matching haircuts and the Blazers and everything else that they wore. That had to be cultivated by their manager, because they were having trouble getting a record deal and selling records because they were seen as, like, not very clean-cut.
So, their manager created this clean-cut image for them that they played along with for quite a while. So, this analysis found that 91% of their songs before 1966 consisted of love songs, these are songs, like, the Love Me Do, I Want to Hold Your Hand, songs like that, that were, sort of, what you think of as classic Beatles from Beatlemania. Then, as they got more famous, they started using these idiosyncrasy credits that they had built up, so they started to deviate from this clean-cut image. They started to grow out their hair long, use lots of drugs, [laughs] they started to wear, like, hippie outfits, their songs got really weird. I use as an example the song called Revolution 9 from the White Album, which is an eight-minute sound collage whose only lyrics are the words No. 9, so they really started getting weird.
Like, they got really unusual because they knew that their fans could handle it, they knew that they had built up all these idiosyncrasy credits and now they’re going to spend them by creating whatever kind of weird music they wanted. And indeed, after 1966 just 16% of their songs were love songs.
Hill: I knew they were making less love songs, I just didn’t realize the math was that one-sided.
Khazan: Yes. [laughs]
Hill: You interviewed a lot of people for this book, and I don’t want to ask you the journalist equivalent of asking a parent which one is your favorite child, but when you think about the people you interviewed and that you met as a result of this book, is there one that stands out for one reason or another, is there a particularly memorable person you’ve got to connect with?
Khazan: Yeah. I mean, they’re also memorable for different reasons, and I had so much fun interviewing all of them. I interviewed more than three dozen people to find some of the similarities between all these people who are different. One that I really enjoyed getting to know and that I am honestly just really in awe of, is this woman Emma, who escaped from an Amish community when she was a teenager. And just what she went through is so incredible.
She basically had never used any kind of technology. She just took off her bonnet one day and walked out of her family’s farmhouse, called someone on the phone that she had never used before and arranged a ride to outside of the community and made it down to Texas, got her GED, taught herself English — so, they spoke Pennsylvania Dutch in her community — learned about modern society, learned how to drive, learned how to work, learned about the internet, started using the internet, went to college, got her college degree, got her master’s degree. Now works in a normal office job and lives in an apartment on her own in a suburb of Dallas.
And I was just so impressed by that, because it’s not even like immigrating, it’s like coming from a different world, like time travelling into our modern society, and just having to learn all those norms and learn how to function in a, you know, what we think of as modern American society, given no background in that, it just struck me as such a gutsy and ballsy thing to do that I was just really inspired by her and I really enjoyed hearing her story.
Hill: Your book is dedicated, as you write, « To my parents, the original weirdos. » What’s one or two things you could share about the weirdness of your parents that they would be OK with you sharing?
Khazan: Yeah. This is in the book, but when I was in high school and my house got toilet-papered. And my dad, who’s very frugal, decided to take all the toilet paper down from the trees and put it in a bag that he kept in his bathroom and then used as his own personal stash of toilet paper. He was very pleased to get free toilet paper from our neighbors.
Hill: [laughs] He’s a man ahead of his time, I would love for someone to toilet paper my house right now.
Khazan: [laughs] I know, right, he was just getting ready. Yeah. My mom really does not like me talking about her publicly, so I’m not going to. [laughs]
Hill: On Friday, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced it is permanently closing almost all of its physical stores across America and around the world. Microsoft has more than 80 stores, and shutting them down is going to cost an estimated $450 million.
Andy, let me start with you, on the surface, this seems like a good move. I mean, we’ve sort of joked for years about Microsoft trying to do what Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is doing with retail locations, but you know, part of me wonders, when you think about the Xbox gaming system, if there isn’t a place for Microsoft in the physical retail world.
Cross: Yeah, Chris, I was a little bit surprised by this. I mean, I don’t think it’s nearly as profitable nor valuable to them as the likes of Apple and what Apple has done, which on the sales per square foot, Apple is just a clear leader. But still, Microsoft does have a little bit, it has its consumer business and consumer-facing business. Now, they’re going to use those same employees to be able to continue to support their clients in, I think, good ways.
But I was a little surprised by this, Microsoft has about $15 billion on their balance sheet of long-term leases, I don’t know how much of that is tied to their stores that you mentioned. A small little charge for a company that has north of $130 billion on the balance sheet, the charge is just practically nothing. It’s much more about what this says about how Microsoft thinks its customers buy its products and where they engage with them the most.
Hill: Let’s get to the stocks on our radar. And our man, Dan Boyd, is going to hit you with a question. Jason Moser, you’re up first, what are you looking at this week?
Moser: Sure. Taking a look at Etsy (NASDAQ:ETSY), ticker ETSY. The stock has had a phenomenal year so far, up over 130%, and I understand why. They have a network with 47.7 million total active buyers, 2.8 million total active sellers. So, it’s a very attractive two-sided network there. And it’s a network, really, that’s the beauty of it, it’s not maintaining these massive inventory levels that the typical retailers have to deal with.
And we’ve seen, certainly, Etsy has been a resource here during the times of COVID-19, in the mask sales that they’ve logged up there. And I think that just goes to show how quickly sellers can pivot and utilize that platform. Very strong financials; growing profits; free cash flow. All that great stuff. And the headline that really came out over this past week, which I found fascinating, is that they too are now incorporating augmented reality into their apps, so that you’ll actually be able to use it to see how paintings and photography and prints might look in your home. And as time goes on, they’ll continue to roll that out toward more listings. And I think that’s a great way to engage your customer.
Clearly, a business that’s already been doing a lot of things well, it’s a stock that I own personally, one that my daughters own, it’s one that I think a lot of people should own, really, and I’m not surprised it is having such a good year so far.
Hill: Dan Boyd, question about Etsy?
Dan Boyd: Certainly, Chris. So, Etsy is a terrifying business to me, because every time I see that my wife is looking at it, I know that we’re about to be out quite a bit of money. But, Jason, the question I have for you is, how hard was it to not choose McCormick as your radar stock today?
Moser: Well, you know, it was easy because I knew that I was already going to be able to talk about McCormick during the regular show. And so, I didn’t really need to double-dip that. I figured, listeners, they wouldn’t like that, they wouldn’t like me for it, they’d think I was being lazy. So, it was actually a pretty easy call, Dan. I don’t want to offend our listeners.
Hill: Andy Cross, what are you looking at?
Cross: Dan, I got Houlihan Lokey (NYSE:HLI), symbol HLI, it’s a boutique investment banking and consultation services firm, it really specializes in small- and mid-market companies, corporate finance, financial restructurings and financial advice. The restructuring part is what’s really interesting, because the CEO recently said, new restructuring engagement activity is running at almost double our recent monthly run-rate. They are one of the leaders when they deal with these small markets, and the small customers. So, I like Houlihan Lokey, pays a little dividend, the stock has done very well, and we own it in one of our services.
Boyd: I don’t really have a question here, Chris. I just want to thank Andy for thinking about stocks like this, because the term « financial restructuring » makes my eyes glaze over.
Hill: [laughs] Two tough options, Dan; you got a stock you want to add to your watchlist.
Boyd: Like I said earlier, Etsy absolutely terrifies me, that probably means it’s a good business. I’m going with Etsy.
Moser: I like that logic.
Hill: Alright. Jason Moser, Andy Cross; guys, thanks for being here.
Moser: Thank you.
Hill: That’s going to do it for this week’s show. Our Engineer is Dan Boyd, our Producer is Mac Greer, I’m Chris Hill, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.