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In this podcast, Motley Fool host Ricky Mulvey and analyst Jim Gillies discuss:

Charter Communications‘ problem with the streaming economy.
DoorDash‘s battle with restaurants overpricing.
Why investors may want to look at Canadian banks.

Plus, Motley Fool host Deidre Woollard and personal finance expert Robert Brokamp check in on the bond market, and how investors can benefit from higher rates.

Editor’s note: This podcast was recorded before Charter and Disney reached an agreement.

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.

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This video was recorded on Sep. 05, 2023

Ricky Mulvey: A major cable company tells Disney, it’s not me, it’s you. Motley Fool Money starts now. I’m Ricky Mulvey, joined today by Jim Gillies. I am excited for the show we have coming up because today you are fired up.

Jim Gillies: Every day I’m fired up, Ricky. But yes, today I think you selected the stories deliberately to provoke an old man shout at clouds, so you might as well do this.

Ricky Mulvey: The first one is the battle between Charter Communications and Disney. If you are one of the 15 million paid TV subscribers, you cannot watch Disney networks on linear television. That means ESPN. Jim, this beef is a little bit different than the traditional carriage rights disputes where one company wants a little bit more money, one company wants a little bit less money. To set the table, what does Charter want from Disney?

Jim Gillies: Well, Charter wants to pay less. I think Charter would like to go back about 20 years and maybe do some other renegotiations. But yes, no, everyone is fighting over table scraps at this point because the traditional cable model, which I assert has been dead for at least a decade and a half and we’ve just been watching the cable companies fight over the declining scraps, I mean, and the streaming services. For a consumer perspective, I want to underline for consumer perspective, I have never been better. I personally subscribe to Netflix Prime, Disney Plus Crave, which is a Canadian HBO provider, and Sportsnet which is the Canadian version of ESPN. All of those together, and I think we’ve got Apple TV somewhere in there too, all of those together are almost 40 dollars a month less than what a cable subscription would be here. We’re drowning in content, we’re drowning in quality content, but someone’s got to pay the piper for that, and it’s the content providers. That would be your Disney’s and what have you. The increasingly Apple and increasingly a lot of the other streamer services and the cable companies are, no one wants our linear TV anymore, and by the way, Disney you’re withholding, you want more money for ESPN, we want to pay you less money for ESPN, and so you’re talking about setting up a competing app. You’ve already got most of your other content slotted in on that Disney Plus thing you started building during the pandemic. I’ve been saying for a while now, the streaming world is essentially, it’s an arms race. Great for the consumer, but it’s an arms race that these companies are increasingly not winning. Since they’re mostly publicly traded, that’s public investors are not winning. That starts becoming a problem. It’s great as a consumer, terrible as an investor in these things.

Ricky Mulvey: I offer some respect to charter.

Jim Gillies: Yes.

Ricky Mulvey: They recently published in an investor slide deck. It’s called The Future of Multichannel Video, Moving Forward or Moving on. It’s a fundamental disagreement with the model and a lot of it comes down to, Hello Disney. You would like us to pay you more for rights fees to carry your networks. Meanwhile, you are using these networks to build your streaming apps, of which we have no participatory stake in, or a very small one, and you’re not even giving us the best content because you’re trying to drive people to all of these apps. I think this might go on a little bit longer than a lot of disputes that we’ve seen in the past.

Jim Gillies: I agree 100%. I believe in my notes, as we were planning this show, I put down that some men just want to watch the world burn, which of course is, I believe, a dark night quote. We’re seeing that because yes, Disney, aside from their Charter negotiations, is doing things harmful to Charter and other cable companies, of course. Disney is doing those things because it’s beneficial to them. Everyone’s playing the self interest game, which that’s fine. But it becomes a bit problematic if you’re an investor in these situations. It’s very fluid. We haven’t even talked about the writers strike and the Actors Guild strike, which of course are all about, more money going to content creators, content providers. But it’s not going to the studios, it’s not going to the big corporate entities. I’m going to make up the number. I know I’m precisely wrong, but I’m roughly right. I believe the average writers salary was somewhere in the 65 to $70,000 range. Average, of course means half or lower. I have a difficult time squaring that with Bob Igor’s $50 million pay days every year.

Ricky Mulvey: Jim, they can’t afford it in a higher interest rate environment. You see the cost of capital goes up. That means they have less to spend on projects like streaming.

Jim Gillies: I’m going to point out that, again, another facet of capitalism is destruction. So if you can’t afford it, that seems your problem, not mine.

Ricky Mulvey: I think the timing of Charter’s negotiation to change the streaming model which is, let’s bring in more networks and create a pay TV model on streaming, which, fine. Let’s do it again. I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental with the actors and writers strike. If you’re going to kick a giant, maybe kick them when they’re down a little bit, but if you’re Disney or Warner Brothers Discovery has been affected by this as well, so is Paramount, what do you think is the bigger deal in the board rooms? Is it the writer and actors strike? Or is it this carriage writes beef?

Jim Gillies: I think longer term, it’s got to be the writer and actors strike because they are the backbone of your content creation. Again, right now, I don’t know who it was who came up with the golden age of television, I think that started with The Sopranos on HBO. But the number of high quality shows that are out there, the amount of high-quality content, I’m going to put live sports over in the corner for now, and that you have a library of such things that you can watch pretty much whenever you want. I think that’s amazing. For, again, from a customer perspective. But a video, this weekend, surfaced of Aaron Paul who’s one of the two co-leads of some little show called Breaking Bad. I don’t know, it’s only on the shortlist for best shows of all time, and he was on the picket lines talking about how he’s making nothing from residuals. Even though that has been a staple show on Netflix, at least here in Canada since I was on Netflix before it was even finished on AMC, the earlier seasons, and that’s where most people discovered it, at least in my circle, that ire and bile by your content providers.

Not, Mr. Paul, of course. I don’t think he’s suffering. He’s got his gambling as he’s got other shows he’s done. But I like the fact to see that he’s standing in solidarity with lower-paid folks in his industry as well. But that he’s getting no benefit from the continuing popularity of that show. Whereas in previous iterations, when, syndication shows, the actors on Star Trek or Seinfeld would get paid when they were going into syndication. I don’t think those strikes are going to be over soon. Watch them be settled today. But it is a fundamental shift, I think, in the industry that those people are not getting paid what they perhaps once were because it’s the streaming model. They’re angry and I think they’re scared. I understand why. Again, you put that against the backdrop of the industry shift cord cutting and whatever we talked about earlier. I think this is going to go on for a while. I think the longer it does, the more important those things are to the content providers. But again, there’s already so much content. I think a lot of players in this space, I’m including corporate as well as individuals, I think a lot of players in the space are probably going to have a radically different world when the dust does settle.

Ricky Mulvey: I want to move on to the next topic. But I want to say I don’t see how they settle the residual discussion without releasing streaming data, which none of those companies.

Jim Gillies: Well, of course not. Because when you see the streaming data for the aforementioned Breaking Bad on Netflix, I think it’ll be pretty good. Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul will have a pretty decent argument saying, where’s our cut.

Ricky Mulvey: Maybe not secret invasion. Anyway, I want to move on to my second story, which is food delivery giant DoorDash or Last Mile Logistics Company DoorDash, however you want to slice it, is trying to bring delivery menu prices closer to the one seen in a restaurant. Restaurants often raise prices on these delivery apps in response to the 15-30% commissions. Wall Street Journal has reported that DoorDash has emailed at least one restaurant chain that it would appear less prominently on the app if it didn’t cap delivery prices at a 20% mark up. Jim, what do you think this dispute says about DoorDash?

Jim Gillies: Well, it says that they’re willing to throw their weight around. I think if we’re going to go for a theme from today, it’s going to be, companies willing to throw their own weight around because they’re trying to maximize their take and people get, perhaps a little hurt. We’ve talked often about David Gardner has the snap test. If you snap in, the industry disappears, how does the world look? What’s the fallout thing? If we snapped away, the Internet just snapped our fingers in, the Internet doesn’t exist. Life is radically different. I submit to you, if we snap our fingers and DoorDash and its competitors cease to exist, the world would be radically better. I think that I look at this and go like, why do people hate their money? Like the one article we looked at, they talked about just a standard order from McDonald’s. You may have heard of them they’re a burger chain, a standard order if you ordered online, was 45% higher in terms of price. Then you’ve got to pay the delivery fee, and then unless you’re a jerk, you should probably tip your dasher. I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary to suggest that your Big Mac meal, if you DoorDash-ed it to yourself, is probably 70, 80% higher than what it would be if you’d walk into the store. Like, why do you hate your money? But look, I get it, I understand why DoorDash is throwing around, but I have fond memories of when DoorDash IPOed briefly, it was valued higher than FedEx in terms of market capitalization. I said, well, that makes complete sense. One of them is a global network that can get you anything anywhere, anytime. The other one delivers cold food to you at exorbitant prices. They’re exactly the same. Of course, they should have the same market cap. I hope you cut the sarcasm.

Ricky Mulvey: Here’s what I’ll say about DoorDash though. I would have expected revenue to completely fall off a cliff after the pandemic, and the exact opposite has happened for them. But still, this is a market share dominator for food delivery. It also has no physical goods. It makes more than $7 billion in yearly revenue and an employee base of mostly gig workers. Jim, I have no idea how this company cannot make an operating profit.

Jim Gillies: That’s a great point. I mean, it’s very similar to like, you know, some of the other companies like I think Uber, if it’s not still operating profit negative. It certainly was for a long period of time. I’m a very cash flow guy, so I took a little bit of a look at these things. I like their balance sheet in the fact that they’ve got about 3.5 billion in cash, they got zero debt, the first half of this year, the cash generation looks pretty good. I would estimate free cash flows like in the range of 625-630 million. But you realize that 540 million of that is stock based compensation, which Ricky, by the way, is why it’s not turning an operating profit because all that SBC is on there. But the problem, another hundred and 40 million, again, this is the first half of this year, so 627 million is my number of the cash it generated, but 541 million of that’s SBC stock based compensation. You’re paying your insiders somewhere from that, 140 million of that is from a favorable move in what’s called funds held at payment processors. That’s an item that will go positive or negative back and forth over time. It’s just a timing issue here. Another $180 million positive contribution from accrued expenses and other liabilities. Again, that can go just the other way, frankly. It’s not impossible that a year from now we’ll be talking about how they cash generation has been basically zero aside from SBC. Of course over the last year they have spent 1.1 billion dollar on share buybacks. This is a $33 billion company by the way, they spent 1.1 billion on share buybacks, their share count is up over that same period because all that stock based compensation is turning into shares and got it. Basically that’s not free cash flow that this company has made so much as it’s deferred compensation expense for insiders and as an outside shareholder, I want to run the hell away from that as fast as I possibly can.

Ricky Mulvey: Let’s see if we can land this plane in a slightly [laughs] more positive, Jim. No, I picked these topics for the reason.

Jim Gillies: I got it.

Ricky Mulvey: It’s the day after Labor Day and if I get Jim talking that’s less work I have to do. Deidre and Bro in a few minutes are going to talk about what higher interest rates mean for your investments. Open floor, right now, the overnight rate is 5% in Canada, 5.5% in the United States. What’s the story of your company you’re watching a little bit more closely in a higher interest rate.

Jim Gillies: Sure, well, the higher interest rate environment has been part and parcel of what we’ve been seeing for almost the last two years. Is talking about, and we’re going to throw in the inverted yield curve and whatever else. We’ve been talking about, hey, there’s a recession coming and we’ve been really planning for this next recession. Now I hold that recessions aren’t anything to be scared of, they happen because they’re a natural part of the business cycle and there are opportunities for investors. However, people tend to like to fiddle with them and get freaked out by them. But I’ve been a little skeptical too, for the last little while because the job numbers have been solid, spending numbers have been solid, there’s that DoorDash reference. But at least here in Canada, it looks like they just had two GDP come out last Friday, it was surprisingly down. We’ve had almost as many interest rate hikes as you have. They’re meeting again this week, they’re probably not going to raise this week based on those GDP numbers. But rates have been very like jacked really hard in Canada as in the states. What that’s done is it’s problematic for a lot of the big Canadian banks. The big Canadian banks, usually when rates are going up you’re expecting a spread and you expect good things for the banks. But the problem is they’re lending here is problems. All the big six Canadian banks have all reported earnings recently and all of them are taking much larger loan provisions because they’re worried about recession and people not paying back their borrowing. We’ve got a nascent housing crisis here as well, good thing no one borrows for houses. What this has done is steadily driven down the Canadian banks as we’ve got these higher interest rates. The Canadian banks right now, the big six Canadian banks, five of which are also cross traded, they’re both traded on the New York Stock Exchange as well as Canada. American types, if they are so inclined, can buy some of these. The average dividend yield on the big six Canadian banks is 5.2%. The average forward valuation, forward PE ratio is 9.5. The average price to book about 1.34, and these are valuation levels certainly on the forward earnings thing as well as a little bit on the price to book. We’re getting to levels where in the past 30 years we’ve seen valuation levels like this three times. Once in the first half of 2000, something happening there, once in 2008 and into the Q1 of 2009, again, something happening there in the broader world and then March 2020. I believe you said before the show, Ricky, that what’s common there is bubbles popping and problems arising, and that’s where the valuation, another 10% maybe in the valuation or less in a couple of cases were there, and historically buying at those valuations, if you can buy it, sit down, put them away for the next 3-5 years or more longer, those valuation levels, those were really fearful times to be by buying bank shares, and they’re also incredibly lucrative times to be buying buy shares. If history is a guide, I’m looking at these numbers going, there’s not a lot of positivity here. I think I want to play in this space.

Ricky Mulvey: We ended with a little positivity. Go us. Jim Gillies, appreciate your time. Insight and sarcasm. Thanks as always.

Jim Gillies: Thank you.

Ricky Mulvey: A savers should benefit from higher interest rates, but that’s not always the case. Deidre Woollard caught up with Robert Brokamp to check in on the bond market.

Deidre Woollard: We know higher rates. The thing about higher rates is they mean different things to different types of investments. We’re going to break it down a little bit. Let’s start with the easy stuff, so for years holding your money in savings that was not great. It’s changing and that’s good news. How should we think about holding cash right now? Are you like following those interest rates?

Robert Brokamp: That definitely is the good news about higher interest rates. We’re finally getting some return on our super safe money. It definitely makes sense to put in the effort to make the most of your cash. It’s surprising to me how much money is still sitting in low yielding savings accounts. Low yielding checking accounts, get out there and look for better rates. It probably won’t come from your neighborhood bank, look online, The Motley Fool has a website called The Ascent, where you can find higher yielding options, see what’s being offered in your brokerages. Money market funds are yielding over 5% these days. Great options. It is important to know that money market funds are not FDIC insured, money market accounts are, but not money market funds. When you’re thinking about like, where should I put your cash? Think about how important FDIC insurance is, that type of safety is. For the money you want to keep super safe, maybe stick with CD’s cash, high yield savings. If you’re willing to take a little bit of theoretical risk, go with money market funds.

Deidre Woollard: Well let’s turn to bonds. Because I feel like this is always the area where things are complicated for me personally, we’re in this inverted yield curve. We’ve been there for a while. It means short term bonds are outperforming longer ones which doesn’t usually happen. A lot of people have speculated on what it may or may not mean for the economy. We’re not going to do that today, but what does it mean if you’re an investor?

Robert Brokamp: Yeah, it is unusual to have short term bonds yielding more than intermediate to long term bonds. It does make sense to maybe favor cash short term bonds over intermediate bonds. In normal times when the yield curve is upward sloping and not inverted, you might do like a bond ladder. I would say you have $100,000 and you put $20,000 each in bonds that mature in one year, two year, three, year, four, year, five year. Nowadays, it might make sense to have a bond ladder that is more tilted toward one year bonds, maybe even six month bonds, like six month treasuries. But don’t ignore putting some money in intermediate bonds. Because here’s the deal, we know, especially from this century, that whatever certain events can happen that can change interest rates immediately, terrorist attack, a run on the bank, a pandemic, and all of a sudden interest rates go the other way. Those three, four, five year bonds that you had that seem like these aren’t great yields, may then seem like really great yields because interest rates went the other way so quickly.

Deidre Woollard: Interesting. We want to keep some in short term to take advantage of what’s happening now, but then we never know what’s going to happen, so we should have some in long term. Is that how it breaks down?

Robert Brokamp: I would say more intermediate term. Once you get to long term, you get into a good bit more volatility in the bond market, which can be fine for some circumstances. But generally speaking, the risk-reward trade-off is not worth it. I think it makes sense to stick with short and intermediate-term bonds.

Deidre Woollard: Short and intermediate. What about bond types?

Robert Brokamp: There are lots of options out there. Right now, frankly, some of the best bonds are coming from Uncle Sam. Treasury bills, which are treasuries that mature in a year or less, are offering great yields over 5.4% in the case of a three and a six-month treasury bill. Plus treasuries are free of state and local income taxes.

Deidre Woollard: Nice.

Robert Brokamp: If you are investing outside of retirement account and you’re like New York or California, makes it even more compelling. I think treasuries make a lot of sense. Now, you can also do corporates. Corporates theoretically yield a little bit more, and they certainly do once you start moving down on the credit scales but that’s more risk in two ways. One is there’s a greater risk that the issuer will default and there’s also the fact that if there is a recession or an economic downturn, corporate bonds tend to drop more in value. One of the reasons why you have bonds is you want them something to hold up when the stock market goes down. You are taking a little bit more risk. It’s fine to have some of that, but just understand the risk you’re taking. If you’re in a higher tax bracket, municipals make sense because municipals are free of federal taxes. If you buy the right ones often, like if you live in California and you buy a California bond, it’s free of state taxes too. For those who are in a higher tax bracket, municipals make a lot of sense as well.

Deidre Woollard: Why do municipals not make sense if you’re in a lower tax bracket?

Robert Brokamp: Because they yield less. They are offering less yield because they know people are buying it partially for the tax benefit. If you are in a low tax bracket, it makes sense to buy a regular corporate bond, pay the taxes but the taxes aren’t that big of a deal because they’re in a lower tax bracket. After-tax yield is what you’re looking for. In fact, if you look online, you’ll find calculators that are called tax equivalency yields. It’ll help you determine whether given your tax bracket, a municipal or a corporate or a treasury makes sense for you.

Deidre Woollard: Interesting. This is all complicated. It’s a whole other layer to your investing. Some people might choose to use bond funds the same way you might choose to use an ETF in the stock market, is it a good idea to use bond funds? Does that cut through the confusion or are there any risks there?

Robert Brokamp: I would say normally it does because buying individual bonds can be complicated. It’s very different than buying individual stocks. Buying a bond fund is a great way. You just make a single purchase and you get an automatic low-cost, diversified portfolio of bonds. The tricky part of bond funds is that they’ve been so disappointing over the last few years. The bond market in general was down a little bit in 2021, 2022 the worst year for bonds in our lifetimes, 2023 things were looking OK until rates went up again toward the end of July and August, and now bonds are essentially flat for the year. The thing though that I think people need to understand is if your stocks go down, you don’t know if and when they’re going to go back up. Bonds are very different. The reason bond funds and the bond market in general has been down over the last few years is because interest rates went up. The prices of bonds went down but they will go back up as the bonds get close to maturity. If you look at one of the biggest bond funds in the world, the Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF. According to Morningstar, the weighted price of the bonds in that are trading for $0.90 on the dollar. They’re trading at a discount. As long as all those issuers stay in business and most will, you’re going to get a little bit of a capital gain along with the interest payments. Bonds you could actually even think of as a good buying opportunity right now. The problem with bond funds is you don’t know when that return is going to happen when bonds are going to return to their par value because the manager of the bond fund is always buying bonds and selling bonds all the time. This is why some people find individual bonds more appealing because that way you buy a bond, you know when it’s going to mature, you know how much money you’re going to get back. It’s a lot more predictable.

Deidre Woollard: Within the bond fund, do you have short-term, intermediate, and you have the different types of bonds as well?

Robert Brokamp: Yes. It is important to look at what’s inside a bond fund or a bond def to make sure you understand what you’re buying. We’ve talked about the difference. You can buy funds that just invest in treasuries, just in municipals, just in corporate, just in junk bonds, which are corporate bonds, but issued by companies that don’t have the greatest ratings, but you have higher yield to compensate you for that risk. If you look at a very diversified bond fund like the Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF, which I own, It owns a little bit of everything.

Deidre Woollard: Excellent. Well, I want to talk about I bonds a little bit because I listened to your show with Dan Caplinger on Motley Fool Live, and Dan was all in on I bonds earlier. Now I know the rates have gone down a little bit. How should we think about I bonds now?

Robert Brokamp: I bonds were the hottest thing going about a year ago because first of all, they’re technically known as Series I savings bonds issued by Uncle Sam. Technically the safest investments in the world, they were yielding 9.62% so how can you beat that? [laughs] Here’s the thing about bonds, it’s actually the rate is made up of two factors. One is a fixed rate that you will continue to get through the life of the bond that you own. Then one that adjusts every six months for inflation. Because inflation has been coming down if you were to buy an I bond today, the yield would be 4.3%. Not horrible.

Deidre Woollard: No.

Robert Brokamp: But not as good as 9.62%. The fixed part of that is only 0.9%. If you were to buy an I bond today, the way to think about it is for as long as I own this I bond, I will earn whatever inflation is plus 0.9%. For that reason, I think actually, if you are looking for some bond-like security that will be almost guaranteed to beat inflation, I think individual treasury inflation-protected securities make better sense today. These are called TIPS, also offered by Uncle Sam. Nowadays, the yields on TIPS are the highest they’ve been in more than a decade. A five-year TIPS is yielding about 2%. You are guaranteed, as long as you buy it apart and hold it to maturity to beat inflation by 2%. Again, safest investment in the world and because it’s a treasury, it’s free of state and local taxes. It’s all very good. I will say though this gets a little bit in the weeds, the taxation of TIPS is really complicated. It’s probably better to keep it in an IRA or a 401(k). TIPS funds have been disappointing. If you’ve owned those I would say that I could understand how you’d be a little skeptical of TIPS these days. I think buying individual TIPS probably makes a lot more sense.

Deidre Woollard: We’ve talked about interest rates with cash, good. Bonds, some good, some bad. [laughs] Let’s move on to equities. How are the rates affecting the stock market?

Robert Brokamp: Well, I’ll just use the famous quote from Warren Buffett, and that is rates are like gravity to asset prices. If rates go up, it’s generally not good for stocks. When we saw that in 2022, rates went up, stocks were down. S&P 500 down about 18% gross stocks, Nasdaq down about 33%. Rates moderated for the first half of this year, which is why stocks did well, particularly growth stocks. Then rates went up, and that’s why we saw the market come down a little bit in August. About 2% for the S&P 500, round 3% for the Nasdaq. Generally speaking, it’s not great, but it really does depend on what stocks you own. You should look at your individual holdings and just be aware of how changes in interest rates affect your holdings. There are some generalities we can make. Traditionally value stocks tend to do better in a rising rate environment. Again, that’s why last year was rough on growth stocks. They were down more than 30%. Value stocks are only down about 2%. But that’s just a generality. Essentially it’s something that I don’t think too much about because I’m a long-term investor and I think rates generally over the long term will even out. But I think it’s helpful in understanding why your portfolio may have performed differently one month to the next.

Ricky Mulvey: As always, people on the program may own stocks mentioned in the Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against so don’t buy yourself anything based solely on what you hear. I’m Ricky Mulvey. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Deidre Woollard has positions in Apple and Walt Disney. Jim Gillies has positions in Apple. Ricky Mulvey has positions in Netflix and Walt Disney. Robert Brokamp, CFP(R) has positions in McDonald’s, Vanguard Bond Index Funds – Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Apple, DoorDash, FedEx, Netflix, Uber Technologies, Vanguard Bond Index Funds – Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF, Walt Disney, and Warner Bros. Discovery. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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