By now, you’re well aware that Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) is one of the most surprising hits of 2018. When shares first started showing serious signs of life last year, many analysts doubted Twitter stock. We’ve seen the head-fakes before, and we didn’t want to get suckered again. But so far, TWTR is shunning naysayers.
Still, is now the right time to jump in? I’ve been vocal about not biting on Twitter stock, recently expressing my bearishness in my five companies to sell list.
I have to admit, though, that TWTR is a stubborn little animal; I’d use a different term but this is a family-friendly website. Since announcing its fourth-quarter earnings on Feb. 8, shares have gained an incredible 12.9% and are up nearly 42% for the year.
To put this into perspective, social media rival Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) is up only 2.2% year to date. On the other side of the table, Snap Inc (NYSE:SNAP) is a high-flyer at nearly 25% YTD. However, since its post-earnings lift, Snap shares are down 12%.
Twitter stock, it would appear, is the real deal.
I have no problem admitting that this was one opportunity that got away from me. As a speculative play when the TWTR stock price was in the teens, I can see the appeal. But at $34 and change — and at insane multiples relative to forward earnings — you must have a great reason (or preferably, reasons) to risk your money.
Apparently, some folks are comfortable with TWTR. I still have my doubts, and here’s why:
Financials Don’t Help the Argument for Twitter Stock
In the debate between the technical and fundamental approach, I lean towards the technicals. I believe that markets are ultimately psychological and, many times, assets will trade based on emotion, not facts.
That said, you can reach a point where the fundamentals can’t be ignored: this is the situation for Twitter stock. Sure, I’m impressed with its resilience, like any other analyst. However, what’s the catalyst behind this latest move, that the company turned a profit for the first time? This achievement is misleading, to say the least.
As my InvestorPlace colleague Lawrence Meyers noted, it’s important to recognize how TWTR turned a profit. When you consider the fine details, you’ll notice that it simply cut expenses; specifically, its business expenses, and its research and development. Percentage-wise, the latter line item absorbed the heaviest sacrifice, down nearly 34% from the year-ago quarter.
I’m sure embattled shareholders appreciate the move, but those with an objective perspective probably think otherwise. Social media is a saturated market in that not too much structurally separates the competitors. In other words, social media looks like my TV provider — so many channels, nothing good to watch.
Given this tight race, TWTR needs further investments in itself to keep the momentum going. From what I see on the financials, though, it just looks like management is giving up. Basically, somebody has to step in and buy out the company. Otherwise, Twitter stock is dangerous ground at this juncture.
Where’s the Growth?
One of the criticisms that I always cite regarding the TWTR stock price is the company’s subscriber growth. Yes, Twitter is attracting more users, but the tremendous growth rate it experienced in earlier years is non-existent. Furthermore, Facebook, with its more than two billion active users, has much more impressive reach.
I’m going to give the sub growth argument a rest this time around, but I still want to ask: Where’s the growth? The problem with the last earnings report wasn’t just that TWTR cut expenses; the company also showed declining top-line potential. Revenue per share in Q4 was 99 cents — a penny lower than it was in Q4 2016. Moreover, the RPS on an annual basis ($3.34) was the lowest it has been since 2015.
In an industry that lives or dies by user integration and engagement, this is a death sentence. This also tells me that Twitter stock has, perhaps, one more quarterly report before things start to unwind. The company can’t keep cutting its way to prosperity. With the cuts it’s already made, it’ll now be more difficult to compete with similar rivals like Snapchat, let alone Facebook.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.