It's probably not a coincidence that reports have emerged of a Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) sale process just after a closely-followed analyst released very downbeat survey data about Twitter ad spending.
RBC's Mark Mahaney, often seen as an "axe" in the Internet services space, downgraded Twitter to Underperform after the bell on Thursday, and cut his target by $3 to $14. Thanks to the downgrade, Twitter fell 3.6% in after hours trading to $17.96.
But shares are up about 20% this morning after CNBC reported Twitter has "received expressions of interest from several technology or media companies," and that its board is "largely desirous of a deal." Alphabet's (GOOGL - Get Report) Google and Salesforce.com (CRM - Get Report) are said to be among the potential suitors.
TechCrunch also reports of buyout interest from Google and Salesforce, while adding Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) and Verizon (VZ - Get Report) have also come knocking. Microsoft is set to acquire LinkedIn; Verizon owns AOL and is in the process of buying Yahoo!'s core business.
Mahaney's call was in response to a survey of 1,100 ad pros that found 30% of respondents aren't allocating any money to Twitter, up from 25% in February. In addition, only 16% are allocating more than 10% of their budgets to Twitter, down from 18% last year.
There's more: The percentage of respondents planning to lower their Twitter ad spend (28%) is greater than the percentage planning to either "significantly" or "modestly" increase it (26%). And when its return on investment (ROI) was compared with other online ad platforms, Twitter was placed fifth out of seven -- behind Google, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, and ahead of Yahoo! and AOL
The note arrived in the final weeks of a third quarter for which Twitter has forecast its sales will rise only 4% to 7% annually to a range of $590 million to $610 million, after having grown 20% in Q2, 36% in Q4 and 48% in Q4 of 2015 (you may have spotted a pattern). Given this deceleration and what Mahaney is reporting, there's a real chance Twitter's sales growth could turn negative in this year's Q4.
Twitter has previously blamed its ad issues on soft demand from brand advertisers -- the greater scale of Facebook and Google/YouTube appeals to many of them -- and increased competition from social media ad budgets, as Facebook proper continues its torrid growth and Instagram and Snapchat's ad sales ramp.
The company has also admitted its ad prices remain too high, which feels like a roundabout way of admitting it lacks the traffic growth needed to create more ad inventory and drive down prices. And the fact so many senior execs have departed can't help when it comes to execution.
It looks as if Twitter's board decided it has seen enough, and that the company would be best served by putting itself on the block. Especially since it looks as if multiple tech giants see a lot of strategic value in Twitter's one-of-a-kind platform, in spite of its recent woes.
Still, Timothy Collins of Real Money Pro, TheStreet's premium site for active traders, says he's more interested in selling Twitter shares here than buying them. Click here to see how he recommends playing today's news. (Real Money Pro non-subscribers can sign up for a 14-day free trial.)