It's a day of the week that ends in a "y," which means it's a day for Twitter to look like an utter mess. The latest news over the weekend was another wave of management departures and plans for a board shake-up. Stock investors reacted on Monday by selling Twitter stock by the snowplow truck loads.
Dare we say it, Twitter is starting to bear some of the hallmarks of a younger Yahoo -- a revolving door of executives, a stock price that plumbs new lows each week and a CEO who talks tough about change but so far has delivered little of it.
But the messy heap does have one thing working in its favor: Sales growth looks tidy.
Even as Twitter’s user growth has flat-lined in recent months, the company has continued to increase its sales at a healthy clip. In the three months ended in September, revenue reached $569.2 million, a 58 percent increase from sales in the period a year earlier. The average number of people who accessed Twitter directly or indirectly at least once each month in the quarter hit 320 million, up just 12 percent from a year earlier.
How unusual is Twitter’s revenue clip? Out of more than 100 technology companies with at least $2 billion in revenue over the last 12 months, just one had a faster pace of revenue growth than Twitter in the most recent quarter, according to Bloomberg data. Congratulations, Zebra Technologies. You're No. 1.
Twitter has quietly been expanding its opportunities to make money. It has introduced ways to display ads to people who see tweets on more places like Google searches, by turning up the dial on Web video ads to people surfing Twitter and by launching features like Moments for live events with ads built in.
To be fair, Twitter remains a fraction of the size of investor favorite tech growth stocks like Amazon, Netflix,
And within Twitter's perky revenue lurk signs of danger. The rate of sales growth has slowed in each of the last five quarters. Investors were flummoxed when Twitter gave a revenue forecast in October for the holiday quarter that was shy of Wall Street expectations. Twitter didn’t offer an explanation at the time for the expected sales shortfall. Longer term, the worry is revenue can’t keep flying through Twitter's doors if user growth stalls.
While user growth (or lack thereof) is considered the prime barometer of Twitter health (or lack thereof), it may be time to focus the conversation on one of Twitter's unique features.
Other tech companies have found success shifting attention away from their biggest weaknesses. Not long ago, investors were worried about Google's troubles making money as digital use shifted from the Web to smartphones. The company hired a new financial chief and started steering the conversation to how it planned to more efficiently operate its sprawling morass. Voila! Now Google is out of Wall Street's doghouse, even if its smartphone challenge remains. Netflix has trouble adding new subscribers in its biggest market, the United States, but the company has successfully made investors focus on its international expansion. Shares of both companies were among the best performers in the S&P 500 last year.
Since Jack Dorsey returned as Twitter's CEO in October, he has been clear about his primary purpose: Finding ways to increase Twitter's flock of users. It's no surprise, then, that the company is being measured by its failures to meet Dorsey's own goal. It couldn't hurt for Dorsey to direct attention away from user growth to Twitter's capable growth machine.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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Shira Ovide in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
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