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The New York Times Co. + The Athletic. Will It Work?

Rivian Automotive (NASDAQ:RIVN) shares fall in the wake of Amazon‘s (NASDAQ:AMZN) new partnership with automaker Stellantis. Motley Fool analyst Bill Mann analyzes some topics in the news, shares what he considers to be the most interesting businesses to watch in the EV industry, and discusses the potential for Constellation Brands‘ new partnership with Coca-Cola for Fresca Mixed Cocktails.

Then we take a look at three private companies expected to go public this year: Instacart, Reddit, and Stripe.

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 Jan. 06, 2022.

Chris Hill: Today on Motley Fool Money in the wake of a record year, we’ve got three potential IPOs investors should be keeping their eyes on in 2022. That plus the deal of the day coming up right now. I’m Chris Hill, joined by Motley Fool Senior Analyst, Bill Mann. Thanks for being here.

Bill Mann: Hey, Chris. How are you doing? Happy new year.

Chris Hill: Happy new year. We’ve also got a pair of partnerships, one in consumer goods, one in EVs. We will. Get to those soon, but we’re going to start with the deal of the day. Reuters is reporting that The New York Times (NYSE:NYT) has agreed to buy The Athletic, a subscription-based sports site, in a deal worth $550 million, shares of The New York Times up one percent earlier today, perhaps an indication that Wall Street likes the price of this deal. There are a couple of things to get to hear Bill, but let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first because you and I had the same reaction when we saw this headline, which was, “If this is true, I really hope The New York Times doesn’t screw up The Athletic.”

Bill Mann: Chris, it’s so funny because you put out a tweet late last year or last week just listing your love of The Athletic and how it was a great gift. I want to turn this into an advertising segment for The Athletic. But to me, it is a wonderful sports page and it is, I think, what The New York Times sports page used to be and should still be today. Yes, it will be interesting to see if The New York Times manages to screw up The Athletic from a user perspective because to me, this 550 million that they spent is something that they should have had in-house anyway, starting 15 years ago. This is something that New York Times should have been able to dominate.

Chris Hill: Let’s talk about the business of The New York Times for a second. We will come back to The Athletic, but you look at the stock, it’s basically flat over the past year, but you widen that out to five years. This has been a solidly market-beating stock. Maybe the Iconic Newspaper brand in the United States and one of the few in the world, the way that the business has really adapted to mobile, adapted to online, built up their digital subscription business. You have to tip your hat to them because for years they really weren’t getting it done. Over the past five years or so, they’ve really had a great run in terms of growing the underlying business of what they do.

Bill Mann: They really have. To click out even further, the stock of The New York Times is basically the same place as it was in 2003. That seems like bad news. That seems like for people who’ve owned this company for a long time, it has not gone that well. They basically just gotten whatever dividends were paid, but it’s a ten-bagger since 2009. You can understand very well in the newspaper business, in the media journalism business, what existential crisis they faced in the rise of the Internet, in the rise of free content. The New York Times has done a very good job in reorienting itself into an online first-world. They deserve all sorts of credit for that. 

As a business though, some of the ways that they have done this was by stripping certain news bureaus in certain segments of their business bare. This is what worries me as someone who adores The Athletic is that that’s an easy move for them. They can look and they could say, “Okay, we’re no longer going to have someone who is going to cover Boston College sports”. That which they do now. We’re no longer going to have somebody who covers Watford Football Club, which they do now because it’s easier and as a business to concentrate on the big stuff. But that’s what’s made The Athletic special so as a user, I’m concerned. As a lover of business, I understand exactly why The New York Times is making this move, and I think it will be a good one for them. Hopefully, it will be a good one for us.

Chris Hill: Just to wrap up when you think about Spotify buying The Ringer, this reported deal, if this gets finalized, it is going to be interesting to see if there are other sports sites out there that either get approached or put themselves out there on their own. In terms of The New York Times, it seems like a smart use of $550 million, but this is one of the reasons we say acquisitions are tough because not all of them work out.

Bill Mann: Not all of them work out. This is $550 million that by all rights The New York Times never should have had to spend. Whatever else you want to say about The New York Times, it is the journal of record for the largest, most important city in the United States of America and one of the most important cities in the world. The moves they have had to make were the things that allowed entities like Barstool Sports, like The Athletic to become the media powerhouses that they are.

Chris Hill: For the second day in a row, shares of Rivian Automotive are down more than five percent. Among the problems facing the electric vehicle maker is the fact that automaker Stellantis announced a partnership with Amazon, in which Amazon will provide Cloud services and in-vehicle software starting in 2024. Just a reminder because I needed to be reminded of this, Stellantis is the company formerly known as Fiat Chrysler, a number of automotive brands including Dodge, Jeep, Maserati. I think, among other things, Bill, this is maybe a little bit of a wake-up call for at least some people out there that just because Amazon has a financial stake in Rivian, does not mean that Amazon is not going to work with other automotive companies.

Bill Mann: Oh, yes. When you heard Stellantis, doesn’t that sound like it’s a treatment for ringworm or something? Stellantis may cause excess hunger. I understand why they would rebrand. I think in a world in which a lot of the most speculative companies have been hit really hard, Rivian up until this last week was one of the final survivors. It is a reminder that when you have a smaller company, which Rivian is, I know it’s got a huge market cap but it is a tiny company. The big company that are paired together, the big company ultimately views that small company as an option, as optionality. If they have other deals that they can sign that helped the big company, they are obviously going to. Stellantis, now that we know that it’s not a treatment for something or for athlete’s foot, is a huge company with huge nameplates that have an interest in the electric vehicle market. They have an interest in being a player in this segment. There’s just no guarantee that Rivian with 200 cars on the road, 200 trucks on the road at this point is going to be the winner. Amazon wants to be the winner and they don’t really care that much what the vehicle is that gets them there.

Chris Hill: By the way, on yesterday’s show, Emily Flippen and I were talking about Nikola, and two things out of that. One, I mentioned Ford’s F-150 in comparison because that’s where my brain went. Obviously, Nikola makes semi-trucks not pick up. I apologize to the dozens of listeners,

Bill Mann: They are all trucks to you, pal.

Chris Hill: For not connecting the dots there. But one of the things we talked about was just, you think about a company like Apple and the years of rumors that Apple is going to produce a car at some point. We’ll see whether or not that comes to fruition. You look at this announcement, this partnership between Stellantis and Amazon, do you think somewhere in Amazon, there are aspirations to eventually be an automaker or do you think they are content at least for now just to say, “No, we want to provide the Cloud services. We want to provide the software. We’re not interested in actually making the steel and the wheels”.

Bill Mann: It’s funny you say that because I think a lot of people miss with Amazon now, particularly with their logistics business. They already are in the steel bending and the heavy capital markets, they really are. There is nothing about the EV industry or the automotive industry that I would put beyond a company like Amazon as forward-seeking as they are. The thing that is true about Amazon though is that they have gone about going into new markets in one of two ways. They’ve either tried to be first, they’ve tried to create a new market, or they’ve gone in once the market is situated. There’s a very famous Jeff Bezos quote, “Your margin is my opportunity”. You look at the EV industry and you look at the promises that are being made, there was a great Wall Street Journal article that came out last year and it was about the EV SPACs that came out and five different SPACs for electric vehicle companies promised or forecast that they were going to make $10 billion in revenue within the next five years which sounds awesome and it is because it’s only been done by one company ever and that’s Google. I think that Amazon right now is making lots of bets and this is not necessarily a negative for Rivian, but they are not the only people that Amazon is going to dance with, and I think it would have been a mistake to consider that otherwise from the start.

Chris Hill: Last thing before we move on, just broadly in the electric vehicle industry, what are you watching this year? This is one of those industries that’s grown significantly over time, both in terms of the players involved and in terms of the optionality for investors. What are you watching?

Bill Mann: To me, the most interesting companies in the EV space are not actually Apple or Sony, or even Rivian. To me, the most interesting ones in the space are the companies that are already making a whole lot of cars that are making that shift. There was a report that Volkswagen and Toyota were preparing to put $170 billion into the EV industry, into their own EV gains. Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, $170 billion is a lot. That is a lot of money that they are bringing to bear to come into this market. They already have the manufacturing know-how, they have the supply chains. They really are the companies that are the ones that Tesla, I think should be thinking about, as opposed to the Rivian’s and the Lucid’s of the world, which have a much longer way to go and have that same learning curve to go through that Tesla has already gone up.

Chris Hill: Constellation Brands is the beer, wine, and spirits company with a portfolio that includes Corona beer, Modelo, Robert Mondavi wines. Third-quarter revenue was higher than expected, but the earnings report takes a back seat to the announcement that Constellation Brands is teaming up with Coca-Cola to create cocktails under the Fresca soft drink brand. Fresca mixed cocktails are due to launch here in the United States later this year. I think if you’re a shareholder of either of these businesses, you got to be excited about this news.

Bill Mann: I think you’re pretty fired up about this news. Once again, as an American eater and an American drinker, I’m also pretty excited about this news. There really is a third player here and it is this. I think the pandemic really pushed this forward. What you’re seeing with companies like Constellation is a war that’s going on with them versus the Beer Companies. They have found an opportunity where liquors can replace beer in a lot of segments. It has not been that case forever, down to the fact that there are different excise taxes for a serving of spirit versus the serving of beer. I think the beer manufacturers are the ones who need to be really nervous about this trend, about the canned and pre-packaged liquor and spirit drinks that are coming onto the market faster and faster and faster, especially as it pertains to PepsiCo and Coke getting involved. Because neither PepsiCo nor Coke have any truck with the Brewing Industry. This to me is great news for them, it is further news to be concerned about. If you are a Brewing Company, and InBev, Boston Beer, companies like that.

Chris Hill: You look at what Hard Seltzer has done for various beverage companies over the past 4-5 years in terms of the growth of that beverage, it makes sense to Coca-Cola would look at Fresca, essentially a grapefruit carbonated beverage and say, oh, we think we can do something here. Coca-Cola says that right now Fresca is the fastest-growing brand in their soft drink portfolio, and I get that that’s off a base that’s much lower than Coke or Diet Coke. But still, this really seems like something to get excited about. Not just for consumers for beverages like you and me, but for the shareholders of these companies. I’m reminded, Bill, of Bill Newlands, who is the CEO of Constellation Brands. He’s been there almost three years, he currently spent the first two years on the job undoing a lot of what his predecessor did and dealing with the start of the global pandemic. But the stock is up around 50 percent since he took over. That’s pretty good when you consider how much time he spent essentially rearranging things.

Bill Mann: It’s funny as you were saying that, my mind start wondering, is there any beverage that’s more of like a hidden MVP than grapefruit in the alcohol space as a mixer? It’s really an underrated mixer.

Chris Hill: No, I think that’s a big impetus for why they’re doing that.

Bill Mann: I do too. But just as you said grapefruit, I don’t really get excited for grapefruit juice or grapefruit, but grapefruit as a mixture for naughty drinks, I am all about. Constellation Brands has been a roll-up forever. They had a bunch of different disparate areas. They were in golf. They were in a bunch of different segments that had no real tie, and although golf and drinking really are a direct tie-in, but not something that’s necessarily that exploitable. They have done a really good job streamlining in the last three years, and now they’re making some moves. They’re making moves that have happened really because of the changes and habits that have been brought by the pandemic. To me, Constellation Brands, it’s always been an interesting company because it’s been a mismanaged one. It’s not mismanaged anymore.

Chris Hill: When this launches later this year, I’m pretty inclined to just pick some up, invite myself over to your back patio and we’ve been several for ourselves.

Bill Mann: Trust verify my friend, trust verify.

Chris Hill: Bill Mann, thanks so much for being here.

Bill Mann: Thanks, Chris. Good to see you. [MUSIC]

Chris Hill: There were hundreds of IPOs in 2021. Some splash here than others. Businesses like Robinhood, Bumble, and yes, Rivian Automotive, raised billions each in their IPOs last year. What IPOs, can investors look forward to this year? Dylan Lewis has more. [MUSIC]

Dylan Lewis: I’m joined by Motley Fool contributor Brian Feroldi. I think the one thing we can probably say with some confidence, Brian, is we’re going to see some big names in 2022. We already have a confidential filing from a particularly big consumer-facing brand, and we have rumored IPOs for some other ones as well. We’re going to talk about some of the most anticipated ones for 2022. I think we should start with Instacart. This is a business that has really been at the forefront of the pandemic, like a Zoom-type business, where as soon as March 2020 hit, they were front and center because they were uniquely positioned to meet the challenges of the pandemic for consumers.

Brian Feroldi: You said it right. Instacart had a fabulous 2020, and if you’re not familiar with the business, Instacart is an operator of a grocery delivery and pickup service primarily in United States and Canada. Users can go on their website or use their mobile app to order over 500 million products across their catalog and get deliveries from over 40,000 stores in 5,500 cities. Now, in exchange for doing so, they offer a pretty modest delivery fee, four dollars if it’s a same-day order, over $35. You could also have charged extra fees if you want to one-hour delivery or delivery from a club store or for delivery fees is under $35. But to your point, this is a service that saw rapid growth in 2020 due to COVID.

Dylan Lewis: Yeah, and I think what they’re trying to do is really establish an ongoing relationship with these folks who have flocked to the platform. I’m someone who uses the service in the pandemic, having never used it before because I got COVID in late 2021 and I was in a position where I needed to be able to order groceries despite not being able to leave my house. It was absolutely fantastic, was able to put in an order and then within a couple of hours had the groceries at my door. Used it several times and it made staying at home a lot easier. I think they are trying to establish that ongoing relationship with users through more of a membership model. We see them aggressively pushing this Instacart Express membership which is zero dollar delivery fee on every order over $35 and also bring down the service fees as well. Brian, I think one of the things that’s interesting about this business is it was rumored to be going public in 2021. Those plans were later push back as Instacart transition mid-year from founder Apoorva Mehta at the helm to his chosen replacement, Fidji Simo, who is now running the company as CEO. Typically we tend to see a new management team get a little bit of a grace period before that company will come public.

Brian Feroldi: Yeah, that makes sense. That might be a little bit unfortunate of the timing there. To your point, they reported some extremely rapid growth over the last year. It’s going to be interesting to see if that growth rate maintains moving forward, which will allow them to generate the valuation that they want to get. But the bulk case for this company is pretty straightforward. It’s very clear that consumers really like having groceries and other items delivered directly to the door as opposed to going out in shopping form. Instacart is the clear rear in the space and they own roughly three-quarters of the third-party intermediary grocery sales market. It’s obvious to me that that market is going to continue to grow although at what rate is up for debate.

Dylan Lewis: Yeah, I think if you’re looking for other things to be positive about this business, I think there’s some optionality here. One of the reasons that they were looking to delay their IPO in addition to leadership changes is they talked about building out the services for the grocery stores that they serve. I think one of the other things to keep an eye on is what they’re able to do with their ad market. They’ve talked a little bit about the ad business that they think they might be able to build. Long term, they see it being worth something in the tens of billions of dollars. The new CEO, Fidji Simo, has a decade of experience at Facebook. She was the head of the Facebook app before she left. I think she probably knows a thing or two about monetization, Brian. The challenge I think for me with this company is what does growth look like for a business? You mentioned the torrid year-over-year growth in 2020, 3x revenue from the year before. We’re probably looking at something much more moderate in 2021,…

Read More: The New York Times Co. + The Athletic. Will It Work?

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