In this MarketFoolery podcast, host Chris Hill is joined by senior analysts Jason Moser and Taylor Muckerman to discuss departures. First up, Alibaba (BABA -3.45%) founder and Chairman Jack Ma gave a full year's notice of his plan to step down and named his successor, CEO Daniel Zhang. The market seems unimpressed, though.
Next, CBS (PARA -0.58%) CEO Leslie Moonves has resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct, but that's not scaring off all the pundits from the stock.
And finally, Snap Inc. (SNAP 0.73%) Chief Strategy Officer Imran Khan just became the seventh key executive to head for the exits since the social media company went public in March 2017, and the outflow of top leadership has become a serious issue. Also, the guys answer a question from a listener who has the opportunity to buy shares of his employer's stock at a 15% discount but wonders if that's the best way for him to deploy his investment capital.
A full transcript follows the video.
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This video was recorded on Sept. 10, 2018.
Chris Hill: It's Monday, September 10th. Welcome to MarketFoolery! I'm Chris Hill. Joining me in studio, Jason Moser and Taylor Muckerman! Happy Monday, gents!
Jason Moser: Hey-o!
Taylor Muckerman: How are you doing?
Hill: Everybody got their rain boots? Everybody got their umbrellas? Strapping in for Florence?
Muckerman: My goodness, it is bearing down.
Hill: It is bearing down. If you're on the eastern seaboard of the United States of America, get your supplies, people.
Moser: I saw they were talking about this thing. If it rams into the Carolinas, which, I guess that's the going money --
Hill: That's the way to bet.
Moser: It sounds like it's going to potentially be the first category for to hit since, was it Hugo in '89? That gave me some flashbacks. I was in Charleston when Hugo hit, and that is just not a place you want to be.
Muckerman: That was a destructive storm.
Moser: You're left high and dry. There's no power, no roads. It was brutal.
Hill: Don't be a hero, I think, is the lesson there.
Moser: No. Don't be a hero!
Muckerman: They're saying it could stall out like Harvey.
Moser: If they're telling you to get out of town, get out of town. If you stay, man, you're stuck.
Hill: We're going to dip into the Fool mailbag. It is not merger Monday. It is, rather, executives on the move Monday.
Muckerman: Departure Monday!
Moser: Purger Monday!
Hill: There you go. There are people on the move. Let's start with Alibaba. Alibaba announced that Jack Ma is going to be the chairman of the board for precisely one more year, and that on September 10th, 2019 CEO Daniel Zhang is going to take over as chairman.
Of the three companies we're going to talk about with people on the move and the stocks are down, this is the stock move I don't quite understand. Yes, Taylor, transitions are tough, particularly at the highest level of the executive ranks. But this seems like Jack Ma is going out of his way to signal as far in advance as possible. And Daniel Zhang has been in the executive ranks for, I think, a decade, maybe even longer, starting as chief operating officer.
Muckerman: Yeah, he's been CEO since 2015.
Hill: Right. This seems like it should be as smooth a transition as possible.
Muckerman: Yeah, he's going out on his own terms. You look at him, he's only 54, I think. Maybe not as old as you would expect a founder-led company like this to depart. Kind of reminded me of Bill Gates taking himself out of the chairman role only a few years older than that, back in 2014. That company's still doing quite all right. You look at this company, doing very well on its own. I doubt he removes himself completely. Always be on the speed dial for whoever is in that chairman role moving forward. I'm not overly worried. I'm not a shareholder, but I wouldn't be overly worried at this news if I was.
Moser: Yeah, I tend to agree. I think this is generally a non-issue for the company. It does look like volume is pretty high today. Sellers are coming out. Oftentimes, it can just boil down to simple institutional profit-taking. It's been a decent-performing investment, I think. Probably a little bit more earlier in its life as an IPO vs. now.
For me, this is a strong company, I think, with good leadership, already very well-established. But the question mark for a lot of us has always revolved around their organizational structure. It's just really difficult to fully understand who's in control of this business. While we talk about investing in China, and investing, often, in the market leaders in China, certainly Alibaba stands out as one of those. But, you are taking on a modicum of risk in understanding fully how these companies are run and who really is in power.
With that said, I think that ultimately, this is a non-issue for the company. It's in good shape, as it is.
Muckerman: Yeah, I think it just comes at a time when most of these Chinese tech stocks have been selling off over the last couple of weeks, with that whole market going south in the last few weeks, as well.
Hill: CBS announced that chairman-CEO Les Moonves is leaving effective immediately. This comes just hours after the New Yorker published accounts from six women with allegations of sexual abuse, sexual assault, or misconduct. This is not to be confused with the allegations from six other women which came earlier this summer. Just from a stock perspective, I have to admit, I'm a little baffled by analysts who were coming out this morning and saying that they would invest in CBS, that they would say, "Well, the underlying business is strong." I just look at the underlying drama going on. I mean, the chairman and CEO is gone. We're seeing big turnover in the board. No word on who -- I think an interim CEO is installed.
Muckerman: The Redstones always seem to have a flair for the dramatic.
Hill: Absolutely. At the end of the day, I never want to invest in drama.
Moser: No, not at all. I definitely don't want to make light of the situation. There's plenty we don't know about what went on. I'm certainly not making light of any of that. I think ultimately, you keyed in on it. The history of this business, with the Redstones and National Amusements and now this, it reads out like a story arc in and The Young and the Restless or something. I don't like investing in those types of companies, either. Once this all shakes out, at the end of the day, you still have a company, a legacy media company, that is facing a much different landscape today than it ever dealt with over the 25 years of Moonves' tenure. And I don't know, necessarily, how they deal with that.
If you look at the financials of the business, top line is essentially flat over the course of the last five years. Advertising made up 42% of total revenue in 2017, vs. almost half in 2016. If they're losing money on the advertising side, and it's reasonable to expect that to continue, how are they going to make it up? Folks really aren't lining up to subscribe to an à la carte CBS service like they are to a Netflix or Amazon or HBO. Once all of this shakes out, I think it's a business that still faces a lot of challenges going forward.
Hill: To go back to Moonves for a second, one of the storylines here -- we were talking about this earlier, Taylor -- is, what if any kind of parachute is he going to get? We saw reports over the weekend that he might get $100 million, all that sort of thing. But CBS is saying, "No, we're doing our own investigation into this." It's entirely possible that he's going to get nothing or next to nothing. I'm not a shareholder of CBS, but I kind of like the idea that a CEO who's on their way out potentially walks away with nothing if they're being fired for cause, which it appears to be. And, spare me the whole stepping down. He's not stepping down.
Muckerman: [laughs] Yeah, no. Only in turn of phrase. Definitely not. If I was a shareholder, I would be happy with that decision, if he is found guilty with this personal internal investigation that CBS is running. Applause to them for doing it on their own. Hopefully it's done by the book without any foul play. Yeah, if I was a shareholder, I would definitely applaud that internal effort.
Moser: I wonder, if you're an analyst looking at the stock here, it's fascinating to me to look at these two charts side by side: the 10-year chart and the five-year chart. If you look at the 10-year chart for CBS, the returns are there. It's actually been a pretty good stock to own. It's outpaced the market. But, look at it over the last five years. You haven't wanted to own this stock. It's not performed well, the market's outpaced it. I think that goes to speak to this quickly changing landscape. I think they are going to be facing more of that in the coming years.
I have a hard time understanding why someone would come out and just immediately say, "Yeah, we're not worried about leadership change here. This thing is still a buy," because clearly it's a company facing a lot of headwinds.
Hill: Snap is looking for a new chief strategy officer. Imran Khan is stepping down, saying this is not related to any disagreement with Snap. He's been there a few years. He helped take the company public. And I don't blame any listeners who are listening to this right now and thinking themselves, "Wait, weren't you guys talking recently about another member of the leadership who left?" Yeah. Since they went public last year, they've had turnover in the following positions: chief strategy officer, chief financial officer, the head of product, the head of engineering, the head of sales, the head of hardware, and their chief counsel.
Muckerman: My goodness!
Moser: Talk about drama.
Muckerman: Yeah, we've been less than bullish on this company from the get-go on this podcast, and remain that way today, especially when you see Instagram stories really taking a lot of market share from Snapchat. Lost about three million daily active users in the last quarter and gave lower guidance than expected on the top line. To see the chief strategy officer leave while the company isn't really performing up to expectations is definitely a bad sign.
Moser: We talk a lot about how, with certain companies, leadership can sometimes not only be a big reason to invest in the business, it can also be one of the biggest risks, as well. When you think about companies like Under Armour or Tesla, I think Snap falls in that category, as well. More and more, this is clearly becoming an investment that depends on Evan Spiegel, at this point, and what he wants to do with this platform. We heard a lot in the early days the word "visionary" get batted around with them. I mean, listen, this is a messaging platform, OK? Let's just make sure not to take this too seriously. This is a company that's building out a messaging platform. That's what it's doing. I know they like to call themselves a camera company, whatever. Just start making some money. Figure this out. As it stands right now, we've seen this play out before. We watched Twitter do the same thing back in the early days. They went public early, didn't really have a clear idea of what they wanted to do with the business. There was no real strategy. What comes from that is this revolving door when it comes to leadership. Now we're watching it play out again with Snap. It's not to say that Snap can't be a good business or a good investment in time. I think it certainly could. But, based on what we've seen to date, I don't think it's coming anytime soon.
I want to see who they get in there to fill this position. I think they're intending to fill it with the chief business officer, who's going to be someone who can help evolve the business model somewhat and figure out how to monetize that platform the best way possible. But, as it stands today, still very much a one-trick pony, and that trick ain't so impressive as it stands.
Hill: I'm glad you mentioned Under Armour. That was one of my thoughts when I saw this news this morning. We've talked -- and others -- have talked in this room about, at various points in 2018, in talking about Under Armour, we've talked about Kevin Plank. We've said, "Look, one of the legitimate questions about Kevin Plank right now is, can he keep a leadership team around him?" And I saw this story with Snap this morning, and I said, "I think we need to start asking the same question about Evan Spiegel."
Muckerman: Yeah, he's chased just about everybody out, it seems like. Maybe not him, but something is.
Moser: By all accounts, it does seem like a bit of a tough place to work. I mean, I've never been there. I've never interviewed anybody from there. But, everything that we've read to this point leads me to believe that it's not the easiest place to work and he's not the easiest guy to work for. You have to at least take that kind of stuff into consideration. Plank, by far and away, we saw that same thing play out. When you have executives leaving, typically, they're leaving for a reason. One or two is one thing, but when you have a revolving door, that's another entirely. When we held Under Armour in Million Dollar Portfolio, the leadership team was one of the qualifiers there for holding onto the investment. We needed to make sure that the CFO and the COO stick around for at least a little while. And by a little while, I mean like five years. We need to know that he's created this environment where people can work and succeed. I think Snap has that same burden at this point.
Hill: Before we dip into the Fool mailbag, since we are talking about executives, can I just say one thing about Tesla?
Hill: I've watched the drama over the last few days play out, with Elon Musk going on Joe Rogan's podcast. I'm always interested in media narratives. There's the initial uproar to Musk smoking pot on Joe Rogan's podcast, and then the backlash to that, saying, "What's the big deal? It doesn't matter, it's legal." I've netted out the whole time, watching this whole thing, thinking to myself -- and, I'm not a shareholder of Tesla, but I look at this and I think to myself, for me, personally, it's not about the pot. It's not about the whiskey that he was drinking. It's about the fact that he thought it was a really good use of three hours of his time to go on Joe Rogan's show. Joe Rogan, for those who are unfamiliar, is a comedian who hosts one of the most popular podcasts out there. Last time I checked, Tesla and Elon Musk are not hurting for publicity. So that, to me, is the question. I don't care about the pot. I'm like, "Really? That's the best use of your time?"
Moser: I have not heard the podcast. I only really followed what happened on Twitter. I'm conflicted, because I really do like what Musk is doing. I think the world is better off with him and his big picture thinking. Pot notwithstanding, whiskey notwithstanding, whatever -- for me, it's the perception. Whether he inhaled or not, I don't care, none of that really matters. For me, it's just the perception that you're creating. In very many cases, perception ultimately is reality. When you're running two very big companies like SpaceX and Tesla, you have to at least acknowledge the fact that perception, really, is the bottom line. And he created that storm. I think the perception is what's working against him right now. That could be a problem.
Hill: Our email address is [email protected]. From PJ, who writes, "I've recently been given the option to take part in my company's employee stock purchase plan. I'm allowed between 1-10% of post-tax income to purchase company shares quarterly at a 15% discount, vested over five years." Goes on to write, "Fellow employees have been encouraging me to put as much money as possible into this plan due to the large discount on share price and our company's track record. As someone in my young 20s now, my only qualm is that buying into a single stock, even my own company's, seems to be putting too many eggs in one basket. I feel that buying into a simple S&P 500 ETF would over time prove to give back larger gains. I'm curious what your opinion is on this matter. Thanks."
Great question, PJ! We've gotten this version of question from different people over the years, Taylor. On the one hand, we love a good discount.
Muckerman: Yeah, no doubt!
Hill: Whether it's on a Casper mattress, or our own company's stock, we love a good discount. Particularly for people who are in a 401(k) plan where there's company matching of any sort. I mean, that's just free money, that's great. As the youngest person in the room, what do you think, on this area?
Muckerman: First off, great for being this open-minded about investing in your 20s, and willing to commit some capital to it. But for me, personally, 15% is a great discount. They are vesting over five years, so you're quasi locked in to being a long-term investor. Definitely want to feel comfortable with the financial standing of your company.
But, for me, personally, I wouldn't max out. Not only are you getting this company's shares, but this company is also paying your paycheck. You're more beholden to its success in just the stock that you're investing this money into. For sure, I would take advantage of some of it. But I probably wouldn't be maxing that out myself. Max out the match in your 401(k) and then diversify a little bit. But I probably wouldn't max out my holdings with just that one stock.
Hill: Jason, what about you?
Moser: Who are these employees who are pushing you to make this purchase and max it out? I'd ask for their track record, frankly. I mean, what do they know? Seriously, in all honesty, I do wonder. If everybody's sitting there telling you to do it, that's one sign for me to maybe take a step back and think, "OK, what's the other side of this coin? Let's flip this thing on its head."
I think Taylor really hit on one of the most important points. That's your employer. You have a lot of exposure there, just in getting your paycheck every couple of weeks. I keep that in mind with any of that. Also, we love a discount, like you said, but valuation when it comes to stocks is more art than science. It doesn't always make sense. You have to always keep that in mind. At your age, you can take a lot more risk, no question about it. But I also like the thinking, in the question there, about investing into an S&P index fund and letting that letting that roll. I do think, for any employee that's taking advantage of their 401(k), max out what your employer will match. Really, I think the only vehicle you really need to have is that S&P 500 index. You keep on averaging into that over the years, through thick and thin, and you'll be very happy with the results.
Hill: Taylor Muckerman, Jason Moser, thanks for being here, guys!
Muckerman: Appreciate it!
Moser: Thank you!
Hill: As always, people on the program may have interests in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. That's going to do it for this edition of MarketFoolery. The show is mixed by Dan Boyd. I'm Chris Hill. Thanks for listening! We'll see you tomorrow!