The past two years of trading in Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) shows a market divided over the stock’s valuation. TWTR stock has ranged pretty much from $15 to $22 since early 2016, save for a couple short-lived moves — including a two-year high of $25.85 reached earlier this month.
When Twitter stock has moved toward the top of its range, it’s usually been when the market has focused on its potential. The most notable spike came in the fall of 2016, when rumors swirled repeatedly about a takeover. Both Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL, NASDAQ: GOOG) and Salesforce.com, Inc. (NYSE:CRM) were reportedly kicking the tires. At one point, a deal with Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) was all but done.
But all the suitors walked away, with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff specifically saying the company wasn’t the “right fit.” TWTR neared $25 on the rumors. Less than a year later, Twitter stock was back below $15.
The market has returned to focusing on potential over performance, even as TWTR has pulled back 10%+ from that two-year high. Takeover speculation is starting up again. Arguments for a “turnaround” are being made. So the question for Twitter stock is: Is this time different? I’m simply not confident enough that the answer is ‘”yes” to even think about entering TWTR, even after the pullback over the past few sessions.
The Bull Case for TWTR Stock
I’ve been bearish on TWTR for years, but I’ll admit that I understand the recent optimism, to some extent. I wrote back in October that even with a number of risks to the company’s earnings growth, there was at least a path out of the wilderness for Twitter stock.
Indeed, one reason the bull case for the stock persists is simply that it seems like there should be some value in such a widely-used platform. Bret Kenwell quoted BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield in arguing that Twitter “is too valuable to remain independent.” Even if Twitter itself has struggled to drive consistent profits from its 300 million-plus users, surely someone can.
And while revenue continues to decline, falling 4% in the third quarter, there’s reason to see improvement going forward. Both user growth and engagement improved in the quarter. Incremental margins are high should revenue growth return in 2018. The company is struggling with pricing, but Hedgeye Risk Management has argued that its move to video will help monetization going forward, and could drive double-digit growth in the not-too-distant future.
Furthermore, based on the company’s reported adjusted EBITDA, the stock isn’t that expensive, trading in the range of ~18 times 2017 profits, backing out net cash. Twitter’s enterprise value is barely higher than that of Snap Inc (NYSE:SNAP). It’s barely 3% — three percent! — that of Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB).
There almost has to be some upside here at some point.
Here We Go Again
But, again, we’ve been here before — and it hasn’t worked out well for TWTR. The idea that Twitter is “too valuable to remain independent” ignores the fact that everyone knew the company was up for sale in 2016… and no one bid. The stock at the moment is not far from the +/- $25 per share offers supposedly coming in then — but none of the logical buyers were interested.
And there’s little reason to see what’s changed over the past 18 months. The company has focused more intently on live video, but I still don’t think that’s the answer for Twitter. Nor does video offer much attractiveness to the likely bidders. Disney, Google, and even Facebook already monetize video content much more effectively.
As for the turnaround, we’ll see. Twitter has struggled to get major advertisers on the platform, possibly due to the often-vitriolic nature of its content. That doesn’t appear to have changed, either, despite Twitter’s best efforts.
Meanwhile, TWTR dipped again on Monday, as rumors swirl that COO Anthony Noto is considering taking the top spot at privately held SoFi. And that’s a big, big concern (Twitter stock is down nearly 3% on the news).
Twitter has a long-running problem with executives departing in droves. Noto has been called the “de facto day-to-day leader” of the company, with CEO Jack Dorsey doing double-duty between Twitter and Square Inc (NYSE:SQ). Noto has led the video strategy, which would leave yet another hole in Twitter’s leadership capabilities. And his decision to leave Twitter for a smaller, private company — even if he, ostensibly, is moving up a rank in title — raises doubts about how he himself views the company’s future.
Stay Away From TWTR
Basically, buying TWTR at $23 requires that this time is different. It requires that at least one of the same group of potential buyers floated in 2016 has changed its mind. It needs revenue growth to resume in 2018, despite choppy multi-year performance, including in the most recent quarter. And it means a company that hasn’t looked particularly well-managed over the years improve on that front, while its arguably most important executive exits.
That combination is a lot to ask — even if it’s not necessarily impossible. But it’s not probable enough to buy TWTR until the price gets a lot cheaper.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.