Shares of Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) were on a roller coaster ride this past fall, spiking when rumors came out about the struggling social media platform possibly being acquired by Disney (DIS - Get Report) , Salesforce (CRM - Get Report) and even Alphabet's (GOOGL - Get Report) Google and Apple (AAPL - Get Report) , yet plummeting whenever one of the suitors was said to have moved on from any deal.
The stock is trading up about 4.4% to $16.53 in early afternoon trading on Thursday after posting a top and bottom line beat for the 2017 first quarter on Wednesday. It jumped 8% on Wednesday after reporting results. Despite concerns about its user growth and profitability, the stock is trading up nearly 10% in the past year and is also trading up slightly year-to-date. However, since the takeover rumors broke out in September, the stock is trading down nearly 17%. Twitter was taken public in November 2013 at an IPO price of $26.
Now that Twitter has posted its first encouraging financial results in some time, it begs the question, will Twitter become a possible takeover target again? According to Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter, who covers the company, probably not.
When considering the future possibility of Twitter being acquired, you have to remember that the rumors from this past fall were unfounded, he said. "The chatter came from knuckleheads, and I never believed it," he said.
In fact, when emails detailing possible software targets for Salesforce were leaked from Salesforce board member Colin Powell in October, Twitter was notably missing. The rumors got started from sources that were just speculating, rather than from knowledgeable insiders, Pachter noted. While every company's M&A team has a duty to look at all potential takeover targets, Twitter was most likely never a serious consideration for these companies. "The sources are clowns like me," he said in good humor. "So when you ask if Twitter will be back in play again, I don't think they ever were in play."
As for Disney, CEO Bob Iger said last year that it needed to expand its international distribution and that seemed to set off rumors, he said. But Disney wouldn't know what to do with the issue of trolls and inappropriate content on Twitter. Then Google and Apple were thrown into the mix because they always get mentioned as possible acquirers because of their large cash piles. But the main similarity between all these supposed suitors is that none of them are desperate for externally-generated growth so they don't need to acquire a struggling company like Twitter.
The only good home for Twitter for now would be Facebook (FB - Get Report) , which needs a better breaking news platform and could, in turn, help grow Twitter's users, Pachter claimed. Since Facebook has nearly 2 billion monthly active users, it would be a great platform to break news, vs. Twitter with its mere 328 million monthly active users. In the same way that Facebook bought Instagram in 2010 for $1 billion and has helped it hit 700 million monthly active users, it could also easily double the number of people tweeting each month. In addition, Facebook's addition of a Stories feature on Instagram this past August already has 200 million daily users, vs. Snapchat (SNAP - Get Report) Stories' 161 million daily users.
"If Facebook bought Twitter and promoted the service to its users by saying, 'Here's this cool thing,' then people would see the value in Twitter and it could become Facebook's News Feed," he explained.
But if Twitter wants to become an attractive target to Facebook or any company, it has to fix itself first, he said. That involves more significant cost cuts and growing profitability through user growth and, in turn, ad revenue growth. For this past quarter, while Twitter did beat on the top line, its revenue fell for the first time since going public nearly four years ago. When Facebook bought Instagram, the photo-sharing app was already doing well on its own and Twitter needs to do the same thing, showing investors that it will provide a company with a clear growth path.
A possible idea for Twitter to grow both users and profitability is by taking a page out of YouTube's book (owned by Alphabet) and offering celebrities like reality star Kim Kardashian a percentage of ad revenue for posting their pictures on Twitter first, rather than Instagram, Pachter noted. Twitter could also establish partnerships with publishers like the New York Times (NYT - Get Report) that gives Twitter a certain percentage of the money that comes from people who click on their articles or purchase subscriptions through links shared on Twitter. "I subscribed to The New York Times and the Washington Post because I kept clicking on their articles shared on Twitter and reached my free article limit," he said. "But do you think Twitter benefited from that at all?"
If sale talks do pick back up again, Twitter will most likely not want to give itself away for less than its IPO price of $26 per share, Pachter noted. This past fall, Twitter was asking for a premium price tag of at least $30 billion. But since September when takeover talks first picked up, shares of Twitter are trading down nearly 17% to $16.33.
At the end of the day, Twitter's management seems too focused on making the experience better for current users rather than attracting new users, he said. For the past quarter, Twitter added nine million daily active users, its highest number since adding 14 million in the 2015 first quarter, but it's still not an impressive number when looking at Facebook and Instagram's growth numbers. "They aren't making people who have never used Twitter understand why they should start doing so and that's a recipe for non-growth," Pachter explained. Twitter made changes to its timeline this past quarter to improve the experience for current users.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey spoke on this strategy to focus on improving the experience for existing users in an interview with backchannel.com on Wednesday. "First and foremost, we need to make sure that we're focused on the people we have and [that] we're serving them better," he said. "We're not here to provide something that people use once a month; we are here to provide something that provides daily utility, people checking multiple times a day to figure out what's going on. . . If we serve those people better, that audience naturally grows."
But even if Twitter's strategy to improve the experience for existing users through more timeline updates does lead to user growth, it still has to turn those users into revenue growth. "Will daily average users translate into profit? That is the question for me," TheStreet's Jim Cramer said about Twitter.