- Microsoft’s deal to buy gaming giant Activision Blizzard [1:35]
- Frank’s 2022 Consumer Electronics Show watchlist [14:55]
- A potential arbitrage opportunity in ATVI [16:25]
- Companies set to profit from higher crude prices [19:22]
I (Daniel) am behind the mic this week as Frank conducts some boots-on-the-ground research into some of his latest ideas.
Microsoft (MSFT) is buying gaming giant Activision Blizzard (ATVI) for around $70 billion. I highlight some details around the merger… Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s incredible deal-making track record… and how this deal sets up Microsoft to become a massive player in the metaverse trend. [1:35]
And Microsoft isn’t alone… The world’s largest companies are all investing heavily in the metaverse. In fact, Frank just released his 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) watchlist, which includes several stocks set to benefit from this massive growth trend over the coming years. [14:55]
I explain why MSFT is a great long-term investment… and why I see a potential arbitrage opportunity in ATVI right now. [16:45]
As inflation continues to move higher, so does crude oil—it just hit a seven-year high. I break down the current geopolitical risks to the sector… why investors should brace for oil prices to continue rising… and a few names set to profit from higher crude prices. [19:22]
Wall Street Unplugged | 844
How Microsoft’s megadeal will launch it into the metaverse
Announcer: Wall Street Unplugged looks beyond the regular headlines heard on mainstream financial media to bring you unscripted interviews and breaking commentary direct from Wall Street right to you on main street.
Daniel Creech: How’s it going out there? It’s Wednesday, January 19th. And you’re listening to the Wall Street Unplugged podcast, normally hosted by Frank Curzio every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But as I mentioned yesterday, Frank is out of town conducting more boots-on-the-ground research, meeting of the minds, pulling of the strings, making of the deals. So once again, I… Hello and welcome. I’m Daniel Creech, senior research analyst here at Curzio Research. I’m behind the mic today filling in for the one and only, Mr. Frank.
Daniel Creech: Markets are rebounding. I’m taping this early in the morning for production reasons to get out to you timely. After yesterday’s intense sell off, I’ll say, indices were over 1% pushing the NASDAQ down 10% or so below its closing high in November, and the Russell down even worse from, I believe it’s the same time period November down 14%. So, a lot of volatility as the sloshing of money continues to find a home in our new environment, as everybody anticipates A, rising interest rates, which are rising; the 10-year is around 1.85, which is significantly higher over the last couple of months, starting to move up higher right now in anticipation of the Federal Reserve. How often it’ll hike, by how many basis points it’ll hike, mentioned a little bit of that yesterday.
Daniel Creech: Also, yesterday, I touched on this mega deal and the Wall Street Journal today has a good article, solid article, Microsoft Strikes Activision Mega Deal. And I’m going to go back and forth between the Wall Street Journal article and the press release from Microsoft itself. Tell you why I think this deal is important and why you should pay attention to it, and just in general, some fun around it. I have to say, get this off my chest, I’m excited about this series. And as I was reading this Wall Street Journal story, I couldn’t help but think about Billions, the hit show, drama series, whatever you want to describe it with… Gosh. Paul Giamatti is the AG, Chuck Rhoades and Damian Lewis played the lead character, Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund guy. Personal issues and stuff, he’s not going to be on the news series that starts on the 23rd.
Daniel Creech: But reading through this deal, Frank jokes about, “Hey, Wall Street is so cutthroat they’ll steal everything from you when they know they can punish other people, hedge funds, just like the GameStop short covering scenario where other hedge funds figured out that this one hedge fund was underwater or hurt, and everybody jumped on board to just crush it.” So, Frank likes to joke about they’ll beat you up, they’ll kick you when you’re down, they’ll take all the clothes off your back. It’s just a ruthless game. I say that because Billions is just about to come out with this new series. It’s a good drama. And real quick, if you’re not into finance, I think you would still appreciate the drama behind it and the storylines and the characters, but maybe not. Maybe, of course, I am biased because I enjoy what they’re talking about and kind of the environment that they play up.
Daniel Creech: CNBC anchor, Andrew Ross Sorkin, is one of the creators of this. And the reason I thought about that is a cutthroat. So, I talked about Microsoft and buying this deal. And real quick here, yesterday, as the interest rate environment changes and Larry Fink, BlackRock investment manager CEO, said yesterday, which I highlighted, “Investors need to lower expectations, expect lower returns going forward in the stock market because we’ve had a great environment of easy money policies. A lot of stimulus and markets returned great amounts well over their averages.” You know? So, you can go way back, say, and argue, “Well, the market averages, give or take, 8.5% to 10% a year since 1950, 1940, however you want to start that timeline. That’s fine.
Daniel Creech: But lately, it’s been significantly higher net. Last year, as I pointed out a couple weeks ago, 2021, the S&P went up about 27%. Well above average. So, expectations going forward need to be mitigated according to Larry Fink. That’s not that hard to believe given everything that is changing as interest rates go higher. Taking that into consideration as an investor, you want to think about owning and investing in businesses for the longer term or how they’re going to not only perform, but prepare for future and or harder times. So, if interest rates are going to go higher, that’s obviously going to hurt some people, and it’s not going to hurt other sectors as much.
Daniel Creech: When you think of tech selling off, yes, high growth, no earnings growth companies are volatile and can sell off as interest rates move higher because it’s going to be harder for them to run the business. And it’s going to be harder to justify their sky high premiums when they don’t actually make any money. And it’s just because easy money and trying to gain market share is what’s driving their stock prices. Microsoft is a great example to examine about this because their CEO… Let me see here. Let me get his name correct. Nadella. Satya Nadella has taken over, and he’s been there several years now, and he’s done a string of big deals. He’s swung and missed at a few deals. Nothing works out as planned. Nothing is perfect. Nobody’s perfect.
Daniel Creech: But as an investor, if you’re thinking about owning this business that has amazing products across Microsoft Office and Excel to gaming with this Xbox to Cloud and Azure, to compete with Amazon web services, it is a high margin sticky business with reoccurring revenue, the subscription model revenue that Frank talks about a lot. That’s why you see a lot of companies going to it. Everybody from gaming, to that’s how you can buy an iPhone on a monthly payment, you upgrade to different things, Peloton. Everybody and their brother wants subscription revenue because you can plan for it. You can gauge it, for a lack of a better word. And you know that reoccurring revenue is coming up that can help push your stock price up.
Daniel Creech: So a couple quick things here. Microsoft in their press release… Which easily, go to microsoft.com, click on investor relations, press releases, news releases. It starts off and says… And this is in the first paragraph. And why I want to point this out, and why it should get your attention? Because it just shows you how big of an opportunity the metaverse is and will be over the next few years and this is just one example of the largest companies in the world getting their ducks in a row, getting their chess board ready, chess pieces ready to profit and gain market share. From the press release. “With 3 billion people, actively playing games today and fueled by a new generation steeped in the joys of interactive entertainment, gaming is now the largest and fastest growing form of entertainment.” Microsoft announces that it’s buying Activision Blizzard for $95 a share and an all cash transaction valued around, let’s just round up to $70 billion.
Daniel Creech: Even if you’re not a gamer, no doubt you know some of the biggest franchises that Activision Blizzard owns. And I’m talking about three right off… I mean, and there’s a handful on the press release, but everybody’s going to know Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush. Those are just incredible. And they have a ton of subscription revenues. They have a ton… The relationship between product and customer is that of, and I’m not saying it’s the Apple, but with Take-Two, Take-Two Interactive is another as a competitor Activision Blizzard. They have their big franchise, most well-known as Grand Theft Auto. The relationship between them and their customers is just amazing. And that’s proof of the reoccurring revenue, the high margins, the continuing playing of the user base. Okay? So that’s important. They are buying these huge franchises.
Daniel Creech: And they close out the first paragraph on Microsoft’s press release saying this. “This acquisition will accelerate the growth in Microsoft’s gaming business across mobile, PC, console, and Cloud, and will provide building blocks for the metaverse.” Aha. The metaverse. So, this is in… So, what have we seen right now with the metaverse? You got Facebook literally changing its name, investing in a lot of… So, Facebook has the virtual reality, the goggles. Mark Zuckerberg has talked exclusive or extensively, excuse me, about the metaverse and what he thinks that people will spend billions, if not hundreds of billions of dollars a day in transactions through different NFTs, through online gaming currencies. It will be some crypto. It’ll be a combination of a lot of things. But these in-house purchasing, these in-play games is just a tremendous, tremendous opportunity.
Daniel Creech: Frank and I have talked in the past how this pay-to-play gaming is taken off as well. And that’s more on the crypto side, but the metaverse is this combination of reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, this immersed feeling. So, who can figure out how to do this? How do you feel immersed? Like Frank says, “Well, you can go watch the Super Bowl on the sidelines without leaving the comfort of your home.” And it’s going to actually feel like you’re there as technology and things advance. Everybody… Not everybody’s going to do that, but everybody is positioning, everybody in the space on tech and things like that, and social media, are positioning for this opportunity, which is a great idea. As Frank’s pointed out in the past, Facebook has about 3 billion users. Okay? If just 1% of that, what is that, 30 million or so join or explore, participate in this metaverse, that creates a lot of opportunity for other items. You have developers, you have programmers, you have online, like said NFTs, non-fungible tokens, currencies, in-game purchases, all that kind of stuff. It’s just absolutely incredible.
Daniel Creech: Microsoft looks to be taking advantage, and brilliant of them, of Activision’s recent pullback in the stock. So, The Journal reports that last summer, since last summer, shares are down about 30%. They were trading at around a hundred dollars between June and July of last summer. The deal was announced around $65. Obviously, they’re paying a premium from where it’s closing, but the $95 mark is still below where it was trading last summer. That’s impressive. Why was the stock down? Well, The Journal was investigating some office, well, alleging sexual harassment, gender pay disparity among the company’s roughly 10,000 employees. The Journal even reports that following The Wall Street Journal investigation article in November about Activision’s handling of workplace issues, this is past November, nearly a fifth of Activision’s employees signed a petition calling for Mr. Kotick or Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard, to resign.
Daniel Creech: Now, Mr. Spencer, who is head of Gaming on the Microsoft side as these guys merge… And it’s basically, there’s been some back and forth about if the CEO of Activision Blizzard will move on. He’s going to stay on until the deal closes, which is supposed to be in 2023. And then, will he remain and report to Microsoft or will he retire? That’s an easy layup fruit. In my opinion, he’s going to be out of there because this is a great way… And let me… And the irony here is this. Microsoft is taking great advantage of the stock being depressed, their Activision Blizzards under internal investigations for office environment, sexual harassment, gender pay discrepancies; Microsoft for its part is under internal investigations over its founder and ex-chair Bill “pool party” Gates, and all the bad press he’s pulling. They haven’t been in the limelight of antitrust since they were broken up, basically on the monopoly side, back in, what was that, the ’90s. And there’s been a riff-raff in a kind of a rough two-edged sword between Gates and the SEC anyway since then.
Daniel Creech: And no doubt. When the government sues you, of course, you’re going to have some bad taste in your mouth. But this is basically, if you want to be a fly on the wall, this is kind of saying, “Hey, we’re having issues in internal investigations. You’re having internal investigations. Your stock is down, Activision Blizzard. Let’s merge and we could be a conglomerate as we move forward to this wonderful metaverse.” That’s just entertaining to me on macro level. And I wanted to pass that on. One more… Couple more points here. As an investor looking at this as a business, Nadella has a string of successful acquisitions. Recently in 2016, well, I guess that’s moving right along now six years ago, they bought professional social network, LinkedIn for $26 billion. Now, that’s a ton until you write a check for more than double that at 70.
Daniel Creech: Last year, Microsoft was in the second largest acquisition, shelling out $16 billion artificial intelligence company, Nuance Communications, that’ll help accelerate growth in the healthcare market. It actually tried and failed to buy… If you remember during President Trump’s tenure, TikTok was going to be forced to be sold if they wanted to remain in the US. Microsoft was in line to buy that. That fell through. Nadella also engaged in to try to buy social networking company, Pinterest, and a chat startup, Discord. That failed as well. But it did buy other gaming. It bought Doom for a lot of money. Was it $7 billion? Yeah. Doom. It bought the Doom video game franchise for $7 billion. That’s a blood and guts killing game that… It’s pretty gory, but it’s amazing graphics and it was scary. I used to play that on PC with my late grandfather as I was growing up. And as a young kid, it did. It would scare the crap out of me. So, that actually brings back a fun memory.
Daniel Creech: So, Nadella is a CEO that is an investor. And if you’ve held the stock since his tenure, I don’t even want to exaggerate what it’s up, but in 2016, it was $55 to $60 a share. It closed at about $300 yesterday. So, that shows you what a great allocator of capital he is. He’s buying LinkedIn, he’s bought some major deals, he’s focusing on high margins, sticky products, focusing on Cloud, getting away from the hardware and just blowing it out of the water. And as an investor, yes, there’s been all kinds of chaos and there still is a lot of negativity and reasons to be cautious, higher interest rates, all that kind of stuff. But Microsoft gives you a rock solid balance sheet, one of the best and well-known brands, great operating profits, great margins, great customer base, and great future growth. It still has ability to grow because of acquisitions, because of its size, because of its management team looking forward and investigating and planning for the future like this metaverse.
Daniel Creech: The metaverse is… This is just one deal because a couple weeks ago in Curzio Research Advisory subscribers, excuse me, got an update on Take-Two Interactive video game publisher who bought Zynga mobile platform for over $12 billion. That’s also a gateway in play into just gaming, mobile, and everything else. No doubt that’ll play into the metaverse as well. Facebook has literally changed its name to, what, Meta Platforms or Meta because they’re excited about it. They’ve talked… Zuckerberg has talked about it. I hit on that earlier. As an investor, you want to have exposure to this. If you want to go ahead and buy a Facebook, and I’m going to give this away, be sure and go to curzioresearch.com.
Daniel Creech: Frank was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago, and he put together a great watch list. He’s got seven stocks. Facebook is one of them. Don’t hold that against him. Don’t say, “Oh, that’s too easy. That’s too broad.” And if you think that, hopefully you own Facebook. So, don’t say that if you don’t already have exposure and think, “Yeah, I know that.” But it’s a great list. Go there, sign up. It’s totally free. Check out that. Those are the companies that stood out to him. Couple of them are risky, which are going to excite you. I know because that’s just human nature and investing, but be sure and check out that Consumer Electronics Show special report watch list. And Frank breaks down seven stocks and why they should be on the watch list and why they could actually be in future recommendations for our Curzio Research Advisory subscribers.
Daniel Creech: So, we got a lot of action going on with Microsoft. Google is in social media. They’re going to be a big part of that. So, know and pay attention to the metaverse. The Microsoft thing in closing, would I buy… What do you take from investors today? Well, they’re offering… Here’s some interesting figures to me. Would you buy Microsoft on this deal? Sure. As long as it’s not a trade. I’m looking more long-term. I’m not a good trader. I’ll get to that in a minute on a different play. But if you had to ask me over the next couple of years, is it going to be volatile? Yeah, but I still like Microsoft here. It’s a great company for the reasons I’ve already explained. And this is just going to continue to integrate and work with them. I’m fine with that. The deal is not expected to close until 2023. And that’s just because of regulatory and then antitrust scrutiny is going to be expected.
Daniel Creech: Microsoft and other tech companies are already being pulled in front of different committees, government officials to talk about the power, and basically if they’re too powerful for social media and things like that. No doubt you’ve seen headlight about that. Not going to get into that right now. Interesting enough, Microsoft’s buying them for $95 in share in all cash. They don’t need debt. They don’t need any banks to approve them. They’re a conglomerate. They can do this no matter what. They’re just writing a check. Activision is only trading for about $82.50. So, that leaves some arbitrage there. This is going to trade higher and lower, closer to that price of $95 around headlines. And do people think this is going to close? What’s going to have to happen for this to actually get done? Is the government going to step in and not allow this? Then what do Activision do?
Daniel Creech: Well, no doubt it’s probably going to fall in the short-term because none of the problems that have pushed the stock down previously, the investigations from the SEC and or the internal allegations over sexual harassment have gone away. Excuse me. Nothing is fixed here. This is just a huge premium to where it was trading. But none of those deals are resolved yet. So, that’s going to be a continued risk. As a trader, I would look at that and it might be worth… Hey, if you think this is going to follow through and this is going to be approved, well, then you’re going to get $95 a share for it. And if you can buy it here $82 or $83, at least you have an opportunity to make maybe a quick buck, depending on your timeline. I mean, who knows when in 2023 and what’ll happen in between now and then.
Daniel Creech: That stuck out to me yesterday because I really enjoy the bold move. It’s one of the biggest deals. If not, I think it is the absolute biggest deal in tech, dwarfing others. And that’s just incredible to see from an investor and a capitalist standpoint. Wow. That was more than half the show right there. But I did… I hope that helps you think in terms of what’s going on with these deals, why they’re doing it, how I’m looking at it from an analyst perspective. And I’m going to stay on one big macro thing here. And that’s the price of oil because from the same Wall Street Journal today, on the front page, oil price has hit seven-year high on worries about supply. That stuck out to me because typically with the coronavirus and the variants, Omicron being the latest, everybody’s worried about demand. Now in 2020 supply, when in 2020, when in March, when everything hit and briefly after that, when oil futures traded negative, that’s because demand just fell off a cliff.
Daniel Creech: Well, nobody’s allowed to go anywhere during lockdown. So, nobody needs all the oil that’s already there. Prices tumble. You have way too much supply. You have no demand. Prices tumble. Now, it’s not like we burnt through all that oil, but now you’re seeing demand start to pick back up. And also you have supply worries. Why? Well, you have geopolitical concerns. That’s okay. You always have geopolitical concerns. But that’s what I want to… This fits into the theme of that forward looking or expectations that I talked about yesterday. What is the market expecting? And what happens if those are in line? Then you have less volatility. If those are apart from one another, you’re going to have a lot more. As I said, the Fed is expected to raise 25 basis points on their next interest rate. If they raise 50 or 75 basis points, that would be a shock and cause more volatility than less. That’s the big takeaway there.
Daniel Creech: So what’s going on? And this is going to tie into something I’m going to talk more about tomorrow when it comes to China and geopolitics. But just quickly here, crude prices rose to their highest level since 2014. Shell’s oil crash and milestone in the rally that gathering momentum as geopolitical tensions threaten to knock supply. All right. Well, what are they worried about? They’re worried. Pull up here. I’m going through my professional. You can hear that. They are worried about Russia. And I, no doubt you’ve… Russia is still in the headlines. They were in the headlines when Trump was president the entire time. Now they’re back in the headlines going after Ukraine. White House spokesperson, spokeslady, I can’t even say her name, warned that Russia could invade Ukraine at any moment. And what would happen if that does? Well, the US is going to sanction them; i.e. currencies, dollars, oils, commodities, anything trading related.
Daniel Creech: Let me find my place here. So, major crude producers, particularly Russia and United Arab Emirates, any outages are likely to goose prices as a market demand rising in stockpiles have fallen below recent norms. The wave of the infection calls by Omicron hasn’t reduced demand as much as traders thought it might when the variant was identified in November. Now, that’s good news from a macro standpoint because it didn’t pull a hiccup. It’s also, if it’s not going to hurt demand and you have supply issues, that’s going to creep the prices higher and higher. And according to OPEC, the wonderful, nice way to say cartel, they forecast the world will consume a hundred, let’s just round down, a hundred million barrels a day this year. That is up 4.2 million barrels a day from 2021. The rise has been driven by increase in demand for light distillates and petrochemical industry, meaning where they break down, separate the oils, and things like that, and put them into damn near every product.
Daniel Creech: Gas… So, oil is going higher. Inflation is going higher. Get this stat from AAA. Gas prices. The national average gasoline prices stand at about $3.31 a gallon. According to AAA, up from $2.38 a year ago. That’s 39%. Talk about inflation. Forget the 7% year-over-year print that we’ve seen on headlines on consumer pricing and things like that. That’s a reality. That’s a lot. That hits your pocketbook every single time you fill up.
Daniel Creech: All right. So what’s going on over here? Well remember… So, we have headlines about Russia and possibly invading Ukraine or causing conflict there, then US sanction to follow, all that just means unknown chaos and or volatility of risk. That’s a big deal. The Wall Street Journal also mentions some situations going on where in Yemen and… You know? The Middle East, everybody always has issues there in around the world. So, that’s not outside of the norm. Also, pushing up oil prices higher as a shortage of natural gas outside of the US. No doubt you’ve seen how Europe and things are being affected by astronomical high prices and to get this for oil. So, the shortage of natural gas outside of the US has been boosted demand for fuel oil. An analyst at Goldman Sachs said this week, that gas to oil switching at power stations in Europe and Asia raised oil demand by about a half a million barrels a day in December.
Daniel Creech: They forecast a further 300,000 barrel increase each day in January and February, winter, and figure demand for crude will reach record highs this year and next. This year and next. Take away? It’s not transitory either. It’s going to be for the longer term. What can you do as an investor to think about this? Expect oil prices and energy prices to go much higher. Demand isn’t falling off. The Omicron variant wasn’t bad. It didn’t crush demand like the original COVID did. That’s a good thing overall for economies and just staying open for everybody.
Daniel Creech: But if you have supply issue and you have this paradigm shift, just like the Fed is shifting its stance on inflation and low interest rates and is beginning to raise, oil companies shifted from drilling, drill, baby drill, drill, baby drill, forget about profits, we just want to produce as much as possible, to now managing books, managing balance sheets. They got a lot of pressure from environmental social governments, the ESG movement. They want to cut carbons. ExxonMobil was out in the news earlier this week talking about really reducing carbons basically to zero, I believe, by 2050, give or take.
Daniel Creech: And ExxonMobil big fan of mine. I was early. I recommended them in the Dollar Stock Club last, I think June, right off the top of my head. I believe it’s up 15-ish percent as of today, but it went down right away. So, you could have hated me in the beginning. Now, at least it’s up making money. They just got upgraded from somebody this morning. And I think they put a $90 price target, which is $20 higher than the current price now. But Frank and I have talked about being bullish for oil. A couple of our favorites have been Dev Energy, Continental Resources, Pioneer Natural Resources. ExxonMobil is the low hanging fruit there. That’s just going to continue higher and higher.
Daniel Creech: I say all that because if you believe in the thesis, as you should in my opinion, about higher inflation, higher commodity prices, don’t let the price or the volatility shake you out. Follow ExxonMobil, gain some exposure to this sector, because even if oil goes down 5% over the next week or two, doesn’t mean that any of the problems are fixed right now. That’s just the price and the money moving around, just like Activision Blizzard internal investigations, Microsoft investigations, internal investigations aren’t going away. This deal didn’t fix or do anything on that side. You could even argue if you want to be kind of a pessimist why this is just a distraction or whatever. I’m just simply saying pay attention to what’s happening in front of you. Oil is going to continue higher or remain elevated because oil companies aren’t drilling as much. They’re managing more for cash return to shareholders and profits versus just drilling. That’s a paradigm shift and that’s a big tailwind for higher prices or sustained higher prices than in the past. So, just invest accordingly and pay attention to that. Don’t be shaken out by some quick volatility.
Daniel Creech: All right. That’s enough for one day. Programming note, things are happening on the fly. I’m having some technical issues. So, I apologize if I sound odd or anything else. Garrett, our wonderful sound guy in Baltimore, Baltimore is doing fantastic helping me out on the fly. Frank Curzio’s texting me back and forth while he’s doing boots-on-the-ground research. We’re having a lot of fun. It’s kind of chaotic. But I say all that to say I will be with you tomorrow. I’ll talk about gold, crypto, and whatever else jumps at me. Oh, the China trade because I had a great feedback from a couple of weeks ago. We’re going to touch all that and more. We’ll see you tomorrow, folks.
Announcer: Wall Street Unplugged is produced by Curzio Research, one of the most respected financial media companies in the industry. The information presented on Wall Street Unplugged is the opinion of its host and guest. You should not base your investment decisions solely on this broadcast. Remember, it’s your money and your responsibility.
The annual Consumer Electronics Show is one of Frank’s favorite places to find new investment ideas. Today, he released a special video presentation on the 7 standout companies from this year’s event… stocks every investor should have on their watchlist.