"There is a valuable idea inside Twitter. But Twitter won't be the company that realizes it," tweeted venture capitalist Paul Graham a couple weeks ago.
After about two years of executive upheaval and disappointing user and sales growth, it's looking as if Twitter (TWTR) - Get Twitter, Inc. Report is considering the possibility that selling the company is in its best interests.
During a Bloomberg interview that aired on Tuesday evening, co-founder and board member Ev Williams gave a measured response when asked whether Twitter can remain independent. "We're in a strong position now, and as a board member we have to consider the right options," he said.
That helped Twitter, which has often been the subject of M&A rumors and popped in June after the Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report-LinkedIn deal was announced, rise 4.5% on Wednesday. They're up another 1.1% today after CNBC reported a board meeting is set for next Thursday during which the board plans to discuss "the growth rate of the company, and future options if growth continues to be anemic."
CNBC also said Twitter is "attracting activists." Between the constant M&A rumors, the financial underperformance and the presence of a CEO holding down two jobs, that's hardly a surprise.
Aside from activists, Twitter's second-quarter results and third-quarter guidance could be influencing the board's thinking. Annual sales growth slowed to 20% in Q2 from 36% in Q1 and 48% in Q4, and is forecast to drop to a range of 4% to 7% in Q3. Monthly active users (MAUs) rose by just 4% in Q2 to 313 million; for comparison, Facebook's (FB) - Get Facebook, Inc. Class A Report MAUs rose 15% to 1.71 billion.
Throw in remarks made within Twitter's Q2 shareholder letter about growing competition for social media ad budgets and Twitter's relatively high ad prices being a hindrance -- the latter seems to suggest Twitter needs to grow traffic to increase ad inventory and cut prices -- and the board has plenty of reasons to worry about the company's financial health.
It also has to be concerned that the tremendous amounts of brain drain Twitter has been seeing will stunt its turnaround efforts. And with nearly 15 months having passed since Jack Dorsey returned as CEO, some might now be wondering if Dorsey, who also remains the CEO of Square (SQ) - Get Square, Inc. Class A Report , can right the ship.
And the board has to know that Twitter, for all its failings with regards to attracting new users, keeping existing users engaged and monetizing its base -- is still considered a unique and valuable social media property. Twitter's value as a source of real-time news and commentary, its support among celebrities and other public figures, its video footprint and its live programming efforts could all appeal to a tech giant or two.
I still think Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Reportmakes for the most logical acquirer of Twitter: Twitter is arguably Google's biggest rival as a real-time information source, the company can leverage its huge ad resources and scale to improve Twitter's monetization and there might also be synergies with YouTube and other Google properties.
Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report is also a possibility: Twitter could be quite helpful to the company's plans to use LinkedIn and its existing assets to create advanced professional content feeds for Windows users. Other tech and media giants such as Facebook, Amazon (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report, Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report and Disney (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report could also conceivably bid, though in Facebook's case, it's worth noting regulators could object to a deal.
Dorsey and others on Twitter's board may still be reluctant to sell. But there does appear to be an open-mindedness on the matter that didn't previously exist. Barring a major improvement in the company's financial performance, this week's news might end up being remembered as the beginning of the end for Twitter as an independent company.