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3 (Mostly) Nonpolitical Topics for Your Thanksgiving Table Conversation

By Chris Hill – Nov 20, 2018 at 5:15PM

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If you don't want Uncle Walter to start on red vs. blue issues, talking about Facebook’s woes, low unemployment, and whether to cut the cable cord could help avoid the heaviest drama.

The vast majority of Americans will gather at festive tables this Thursday, and between giving thanks and the pie, there's going to be a lot of talk -- some of it awkward. So for those looking to gently guide matters away from topics that will give folks indigestion, in their podcast, Market Foolery host Chris Hill and senior analysts Jason Moser and Taylor Muckerman checked in on the business world and came back with a trio of topics that can conceivably be kept apolitical:

First, can we trust the top brass at Facebook (META -1.19%) -- and how should it respond to its latest setbacks? Second, low unemployment and how businesses will need to adjust. And third, whether or not it's time to dump your cable package in favor of new alternatives.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Nov. 19, 2018.

Chris Hill: It's Monday, November 19th. Welcome to Market Foolery! I'm Chris Hill. Joining me in studio today, it's the Monday crew, it's Jason Moser and Taylor Muckerman. Gents, how are we feeling? Ready for Thanksgiving?

Jason Moser: Man, so ready.

Hill: We're going to get the dozens of listeners ready for Thanksgiving. We were looking out over the headlines today, and this is one of those days where there's nothing that leaps out as, "Oh my gosh, this is the thing that we have to talk about. Here's the big earnings story," that sort of thing. So, we thought, you know what? Let's help the dozens of listeners get ready for Thanksgiving. What do a lot of people dread about Thanksgiving? The conversation. The conversation, because you're going to sit down at the table, and someone's going to bring up politics.

Taylor Muckerman: After a little bit too much mead before dinner. 

Hill: Exactly. So, we're going to arm the dozens of listeners with some things to talk about that aren't politics. These are things that could conceivably come up, because they're somewhat timely.

Let's start with Facebook. Facebook over the last week has become more and more interesting as we have these articles coming out in The New York Times last week, we've got various op eds coming out. We were talking right before we started taping, Jason, it really seems like the curtain is being pulled back on particularly the executive suite at Facebook, as we have these reports of, "Here's what they knew, and here's when they knew it." There are definitely some competitors, and probably some investors out there, who smell blood in the water.

Moser: Yeah, I would imagine. I certainly look at Facebook, from an investor's perspective, as a company where I've certainly changed my tune on leadership significantly. For a long time, I felt like Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg were a dynamic duo that really had a good idea of where they wanted to take the business, how they were going to get there. On the calls, they were always on point, painted a very good picture of a long-term strategy there. Not just based on these articles that are out during this news cycle right now, but just based generally on what we're coming to find out about the company, and what we know about Facebook in general, and what social networking is doing to society on the whole ... I've lost all confidence in this leadership team completely. I trust them zero. Not at all. And Facebook was not a company I was ever going to own anyway, it's just not something I'm a fan of. It's a pure advertising play. I get it. If I'm going to invest in advertising, I would rather own Alphabet. But for Facebook, it just seems like this dream of a more connected world being some sort of utopia has been flattened on its ass so severely here in 2018. It's very hard for me take a step back here and understand exactly how they change the narrative to get back toward this "the connected world is such a good idea." I think what it does ultimately, it exposes how we just fall back into tribalism. Everybody just falls back to what they really want to believe in anyway! I don't know.

Muckerman: Yeah, and they prey on that. Engagement is the #1 metric that these companies like Facebook are gearing toward. They're great at keeping you on the site. But if things like this keep coming out, to where you don't ever want to go back to the site, that's the end of their business model, in my mind. They do all the marketing for other companies to leave the site of Facebook. Where do you see advertisements to go to Facebook? Unless it's in your mind, you don't go to Facebook. I think with things like this popping out -- and Jason's right, I'm on the same page of social media and the engineering of people's attention, and only giving you articles that they think you're going to believe in -- I think that's moving in the wrong direction. We're such a far cry away from Sandberg being discussed as a potential presidential candidate in 2020 or 2024. And now, you see the struggles behind the scenes here at Facebook.

Hill: You look at shares of Facebook over the summer, getting close to $220 a share. Now, it's down in the $130s. It's basically down 40% from its high. I'm glad you mentioned that, Taylor. One of the most striking things to me over the past week has been -- I don't know if there's a rift between Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg, but it certainly seems like the spotlight is on the two of them in a way that it really hasn't been before. When I think about this business, and I think about Thanksgiving later this week, one of the things I'm interested to talk to younger people in my family about is Instagram -- to what extent they are using it, dropping it, all that sort of thing. 

When we talk about things within a company that are rising and falling, we first and foremost look at the numbers. When I look at Facebook, when I think about what's rising, it has nothing to do with numbers. It's the drama of the company and it's the scrutiny on the company.

Moser: I'm going to have to hold my nose when I say this. Ultimately, I do think that from an investor's perspective -- and that's our angle here, of course -- you're pretty hard pressed to look at Facebook from today's levels and see it as a bad investment opportunity. Again, I'm not going to be going out and buying shares myself. I just don't like the company, don't like the leadership. But you don't amass a user base of that size on accident. They, better or worse, have figured out a way to connect billions of people on this planet. And they've got a number of different ways that they do it. We talk about Facebook proper having maybe hit its peak moment. That may be. We're certainly seeing more advertisers going over to Instagram. But you still have Instagram, you have WhatsApp, you have Messenger, you have a lot of different ways the business can still make money. 

You have to resort back to human behavior. And I think, generally speaking, people are narcissists. That probably sounds bad to say, but the fact of the matter is, there are a lot of people that like getting out there and showing you what they had for lunch. I'm not sure why. They feel like it's important.

Hill: Hey, sometimes lunch is delicious. 

Moser: It is. I get it. I know, I understand. I don't think that's going to stop. I also think there are so many people where their behavior is already ingrained, and that Facebook and its properties are part of their everyday life and communicating in one form or another. So, I don't think you're going to see meaningful disruptions to the network. You may see meaningful disruptions to leadership. And I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Sandberg say, "You know what? I'm out." I think Zuckerberg needs her more than she needs him.

Hill: Yeah. For her to come on in 2008 and completely turn that business into a revenue and eventually profit-generating machine ... I don't think Zuckerberg was doing that on his own.

Moser: Politically, with Google, she has a lot of different ways that she can go about her future. And obviously, he's tied to this business. I think if you're an investor, you probably have to be looking at Facebook and thinking, this might be actually a pretty good opportunity. You just have to be aware of what's in store. You have to know your line, as to whether this is the type of company that you want to own.

Hill: After Thanksgiving, of course, we've got Black Friday, and all the focus that happens on the retail industry. Something that we're starting to see evidence of is, I'm not taking a victory lap here, but I feel like we called it.

Moser: Go ahead, take a victory lap.

Hill: I feel like we called this out earlier in the fall. Late summer, early fall, we always see large retailers coming out with their announcements of seasonal hiring. And one of the things we talked about on this show and on Motley Fool Money was, this will be interesting to see, and I'm not picking on Target (TGT -2.35%), but, when Target comes out and says, we're going to hire 100,000-125,000, seasonal workers, Macy's makes the same announcements, so does Walmart, etc. And at the time, we were saying, "This is going to be interesting. It's not 2010. We're now in an environment where unemployment is incredibly low, and wages are on the rise." And now, it really seems, Taylor, like, yeah, companies are having a tough time hiring. Among other things, some businesses are throwing hiring parties to try and get people in the door.

Muckerman: It's wild to think, with unemployment as low as it is, under 5%. It's going to be harder to find and more expensive to find seasonal labor. Companies are going to have to bump up that potential $8 an hour up to, $10-15. Amazon saying they're going to advocate for that $15 minimum wage across the country. I think that goes to a couple different points, maybe some competitive points, of Bezos trying to flush out some people that can't afford $15 an hour. Either that, or, just because he foresaw a tighter seasonal employment market and was like, "Hey, here's our $15. If you can beat it, go work there. If you can't, we're going to give it to you." This will be the first season that they hire their own delivery drivers for seasonal delivery. There's a lot more competition out there. It's going to be a little bit costlier. You'll probably see a lot more younger folks. Maybe this is the chance for some high schoolers to go out there and make an extra buck, because they might not have traditionally been hired for seasonal work.

Moser: I feel like the conversation has always steered around autonomous driving, robot cars, all that stuff. To me, this is by far and away, at least in the near-term, the more significant opportunity. I don't understand how all of these fast food restaurants to this point are not fully autonomous. It's not like they're offering bespoke menus. Generally speaking, you're getting what you want based off a pre-fixed menu. I don't know how many years left we have of these types of restaurants maintaining these big human workforces. To me, it seems like we're going more toward the automated direction anyway with them. It's astounding that they haven't gotten there quicker. It's food. It's not cars. It's not like you have to worry about burgers crashing into each other. You just make another burger.

Muckerman: I've seen some robots flipping burgers that were pretty fascinating to watch.

Moser: It does exist!

Muckerman: It does, it's incredible.

Moser: You see the soft drink carousel, for example. Those are fairly automated now. I have to believe it shouldn't be that big of a leap.

Hill: It's certainly been a tough year for the restaurant industry. In terms of the stocks, we've seen plenty of restaurants be taken private this year. But to your point, Jason, I do feel like the bar is higher for retailers than it is for restaurants. You would need to have a really bad experience at a fast food restaurant to not go back there at some point in the future. Whereas when it comes to retailers over the holiday season, they almost don't have the option about employing seasonal workers. If go into a Target, and you're looking for whatever's on your list, if you find someone who's helpful to you, that's going to stick with you, you're going to go back. Whereas, otherwise, you're going to hold a grudge. I know people who have had bad retail experiences at Retailer X and they say, "That's it. I'm done. I'm never going there. I have other options."

Muckerman: At least in my perspective, you expect a little bit more curt service at a fast food restaurant. Like, "Hey, here's what you want. Here's what you got. Thank you, see you again in a day." It'll only take five minutes to get to your food next time. Whereas retail, at least in person, definitely more personable. You'd like environment to be a little bit more structured, so you can actually find what you're looking for, since you have to search for it. At a fast food or dining chain, it's all laid out for you right there on the menu. 

Hill: By the way, I know that there's a science behind this, but it just occurred to me, the whole thing where, you know how grocery stores will change up which aisles things go in? People get into a routine when they go to a grocery store. I don't know if it's every 12 months. Whatever it is, I just know it happens, because I go to the grocery stores and I'm like, "Wait a minute."

Muckerman: The Twilight Zone.

Hill: "You moved the spice aisle?!"

Muckerman: McCormick!

Hill: And that appears to be a phenomenon that only happens in grocery stores. The Target down here on Route 1, everything's the same, in terms of the location, which is good. If Target ever decided, "Let's just screw with people. Let's break up their routine," people would lose their minds.

Muckerman: Move the beer aisle.

Moser: I think it's related to the size. I will say, when I was in the golf business, part of the golf business is running a golf shop at the country club. You can imagine, that shop is significantly smaller than something like a Target. And we would switch that thing up all the time. But I also know that it takes maybe five minutes to walk through that entire shop. Whereas if you go to Target, you're like, "Man, I've got about five minutes." If it takes me five minutes to even figure out that they changed where things were, you've got a problem. I think consistency in that regard is something that they almost have to rely on. It has to happen.

Hill: Programming note. This weekend on Motley Fool Money, we've got out annual Thanksgiving special. And it is special, because it's the only show that we have during the year that has a sound effect. We blow the entire sound effects budget on the one turkey sound.

Also, on Friday's episode of Industry Focus, it's the return of Kyle Pounders. Kyle Pounders, the man behind Excaliburger. Dan and I and Dylan Lewis met him earlier this year at SXSW. I talked about him on Market Foolery. Dan and Dylan put together a great special episode of Industry Focus earlier this year talking with Kyle and the business of having a food truck.

Muckerman: A pay-it-forward burger.

Hill: Yes. And Kyle came to Fool HQ. Did you get a chance to partake? You were out of town.

Moser: I had just gotten back. It was funny. I was pulling out of the garage that evening leaving, and I saw him park there on the side. He was having a little car trouble, and I was able to stop and talk with him. I tried to give him a jump-start, but I think maybe it was a little bit more than was needed. Super nice guy. Really enjoyed talking to him.

Hill: Great guy, and a fantastic burger.

Here's one more thing folks can talk about at the table at Thanksgiving if the conversation turns to politics, and that is entertainment. Most people like entertainment. From a business standpoint, you pointed this out earlier today, Jason, the trend that we've seen over the past few years continues. More and more people are cutting the cord.

Moser: It's not surprising. I certainly remember not all that long ago saying, "I want to keep the cord." I like having that optionality out there. And it came at a price. Our Verizon bill every month for that option was going on, $150. For me, what really changed my mind was when Hulu came out with this skinny bundle offering. YouTube has one, very similar. We're seeing more and more now that not only are these modern content providers coming out with those options, but we're seeing that the legacy providers are having to do the same thing. It's changing the bundle. But we are getting to a point where it feels like now, that cost justification doesn't quite exist like it used to, unless you're willing to make sacrifices. And some people are, and that's fine. Some people are very happy just to have that Netflix (NFLX -0.27%) subscription, and that's all they really want anyway.

But it used to be that it was either Netflix or cable. You had to choose. Now, it's not so. It could be cable or any number of different apps and services that you want to piece together if you like sports, news, entertainment, whatever it may be. From the perspective of a consumer, it's really nice. You can get what you want, when you want. But you're starting to pay for it. And I'm telling you right now, Netflix ain't lowering that price. They are not lowering that price, no. You're going to see more and more, whether it's ESPN+ or Disney+ or HBO or Netflix or Hulu -- thankfully, Amazon is able to build their streaming service into the Prime relationship, and you don't really think about it. The prices are going to up because that's just the direction that this goes. So, we get back to where we started. [laughs] I'm not sure I'm not sure what to make of all of that. But that's where we are.

Muckerman: The one cord you're not cutting is your internet cable. That's the base of all of this. You still look at companies like Comcast and Verizon and Time Warner that are providing this internet service, I think that portion of the bill is probably going to go up a little bit more if people continue to cut the cable or the telephone portion of the bundle out. Maybe once Netflix or these other companies bump up against a little bit of a subscriber growth issue, they can partner with Verizon. Instead of selling an internet-cable bundle, you sell an internet-Netflix bundle or something like that. I'll be interested to follow the whole Comcast-Disney situation here with Hulu. Disney bought into the Sky Network with Fox, and now they own 60% of Hulu. Comcast still owns 30%. A little bit of a competitive market there, owning the same bundle service. It'll be interesting to see if Comcast holds onto that, or maybe ships it for a few billion dollars to Disney to give them 90% control, and see how that plays out. That's one of the more interesting situations in this whole cut-the-cord bundling situation. 

Hill: What are you watching these days, in terms of entertainment? I'm assuming it's streaming as opposed to a traditional broadcast TV show?

Moser: I saw that the new season of Narcos is out on Netflix. That, frankly, is the only series on Netflix I've ever felt like I wanted to watch. I'll probably catch up on that. And then, another one. I went digging back last week on Amazon and HBO. They have an old HBO series called Carnivàle. It only went on for two seasons.

Hill: Oh yeah! I remember that.

Moser: I had read some really good reviews about it, so I gave the first couple of episodes a shot. It's pretty compelling. I want to watch the story play out.

Muckerman: Narcos, I just started the new season, it's also a new direction. It's in Mexico now versus South America and Colombia. Two episodes in. That's one of the few shows that I'm watching. Ozark is over for the season, Billions is over until the spring, so I'm all in on Narcos. 

Hill: I just started rewatching the first season of Goliath on Amazon Prime, just because I so enjoyed that series.

Muckerman: Is that Billy Bob Thornton?

Hill: It's Billy Bob Thornton, down and out. The first season, as you said before, Jason, a little dark. Second season gets a little darker. But that that first is just phenomenal storytelling.

Moser: Speaking of phenomenal seasons, the one that stands out to me to this day, an HBO series called Boardwalk Empire. Season three of Boardwalk Empire may be the best season of anything I've ever seen. The story that it told, and it incorporated a character -- Bobby Cannavale is the actor who played Gyp. Man, great story, good series. Season three of Boardwalk Empire is on-point.

Muckerman: One of those shows where you have to watch --

Hill: I was going to say, I'm a little bummed that you said season three. I have to go through the first two?

Moser: You could probably watch season three and it would stand on its own. I would recommend the whole series. With that said, each episode is exhausting. It's like watching The Untouchables every time you watch it. It's great, but you have to commit like a year to it. 

Hill: That's good. I feel like those are the types of things that you need to hear from friends who recommend series. What people often hear is "Watch this! It's great!" And the second level of information is, "It's a comedy, it's a drama," that sort of thing." But I always appreciate when it's like, "Look, it's a great show, but you're going to need a nap after each and every episode."

Moser: "How much time does this guy think I have?"

Hill: It's draining to watch this show. It's great, it's phenomenal storytelling, and it's exhausting. Taylor Muckerman, Jason Moser, guys, happy Thanksgiving!

Muckerman: You too, Chris!

Hill: As always, people on the program may have interest 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 Market Foolery. The show is mixed by Dan Boyd. I'm Chris Hill. Thanks for listening! We'll see you tomorrow.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Hill owns shares of Amazon. Jason Moser owns shares of McCormick. Taylor Muckerman owns shares of Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, and Comcast. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast, McCormick, and Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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