Source: Techcrunch via Flickr
The Numbers: Twitter reported it had GAAP net income of $255 million, 33 cents per share, on revenue of $908.8 million for the quarter ending in December. For the full year, net income came in at $1.2 billion, $1.56 per share, on revenue of $3.04 billion for the full year — a sales increase of 25% year-over-year. However, analysts were expecting earnings of 25 cents per share (hoping for 29 cents) on revenue of about $872 million. Twitter also estimated first-quarter revenue of $715-$775 million, against an analyst estimate of $766.1 million.
The Result: Rather than celebrating, investors dumped shares, sending Twitter stock down nearly 10% in Thursday’s early trading session. The reason? Low guidance and rising expenses. If anything is to blame, it’s Twitter’s strong third quarter, which sent the shares up 20% and raised expectations. Stellar results from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Snap (NASDAQ:SNAP) didn’t help either.
Are We at Peak Twitter?
The Presidency of Donald Trump may not be “normalized,” but the use of Twitter is increasingly so. People who know how to use the service to get their messages out are being rewarded, while those who don’t are being overlooked or scorned.
This doesn’t mean everyone should be using the service. Politicians are regularly being trapped in the tweetstorm, seeing small mistakes magnified into huge controversies. Celebrities are finding themselves attacked for getting engaged or just doing their jobs.
Even CEO Jack Dorsey seemed to admit we may be approaching peak Twitter, saying the company will no longer report monthly average users (MAUs), which are dropping as the company ferrets out automated accounts and hate-speech groups. Instead, it’s reporting daily average users (DAUs) — people who log in and can receive ads — saying those numbers continue to increase.
All this leads TWTR bears to see expenses rising, usage peaking and a need to evaluate Twitter as a mature company, not a growth stock.
Is Twitter Still a Growth Stock?
Twitter is now trading at a market cap of $23 billion as of this writing. That represents roughly 8 times its annual revenue and 19 times its 2018 GAAP earnings per share. Facebook, by way of comparison, is currently valued at 8.6 times its $55.8 billion of revenue, with a price-earnings (P/E) ratio of 22. Further, the $761 billion market cap of Google-parent Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is about 5.6 times its 2018 revenue of $137 billion and about 25 times its earnings.
Investors naturally pay a higher price for the revenue of growth stocks than for mature stocks, where they seek lower P/E ratios and a share of the profits in the form of dividends.
Tech executives, like middle-aged men, prefer to resist maturity (read: dividends), believing it means their best days are behind them. There’s an old saw that you only pay dividends because you don’t have anything better to do with the shareholders’ money.
Like people, every company grows up. Its responsibility to investors shifts, and its attitude toward customers must also shift. Like a rock guitarist who finds himself no longer breaking his instruments on stage but enjoying a house on the French Riviera, even the best tech companies must acknowledge their responsibilities and act their financial age.
This is what Twitter is trying to do. But that also means it needs a different kind of investor, one who will evaluate it like the big advertisers it serves, rather than as something new and different.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of a new mystery thriller, The Reluctant Detective Finds Her Family, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing, he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this article.