Twitter Inc. (TWTR) released its Q4 2019 earnings report, wrapping up a streak of reporting from heavy-hitting U.S. tech companies over the last two weeks. The social media firm reported strong revenue growth and its first full year of profitability since its 2013 IPO, but a substantial decline in monthly active users (MAUs) – the unique number of users to engage with the platform in a 30-day period – seemed to overshadow everything else for investors.
Despite bullish sentiment clearly reflected in a 30% gain last year, Twitter still suffers the problems that similarly plague Facebook Inc. (FB). As an online platform with pervasive cultural influence, Twitter’s efforts to handle misinformation and hate speech may continue to be reflected in user numbers, which could consequently affect the share price.
Let’s take a closer look at Twitter’s newest numbers – and what they could signal in regards to the company’s rebound that started in 2018…
Twitter’s EPS and revenue for the October-December period crushed analyst expectations, while MAUs matched forecasts despite the year-over-year decline.
The firm earned $0.31 per share in Q4, beating Wall Street’s estimated $0.25 and growing a massive 63% from the $0.19 reported for the year-ago period. Revenue growth was also impressive, with the reported $909 million marking a 24% increase from $732 million in Q4 2018. That $909 million similarly blew past expectations of $869.5 million.
As for guidance, the firm’s range for Q1 2019 came in lower than anticipated. Analysts expected $762.43 million, while the company provided a range of $715 million to $775 million for the January-March period.
The largest sore spot on the report was user metrics, particularly MAUs. Twitter clocked 321 million MAUs in the fourth quarter, which – despite meeting analyst estimates right on the nose – marked a decrease of 5 million from the third quarter of 2018 and a decrease of 9 million from the fourth quarter of 2017.
Given how Q4 was the third straight quarter of MAU declines, Twitter’s announcement regarding a change in metric reporting was hardly surprising, particularly following similar announcements from Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Facebook regarding the way they report user metrics.
For Twitter, the company has decided to stop reporting MAUs in favor of reporting average monetizable daily active users (DAUs). These are users that log in and access the Twitter website or on Twitter applications that show advertisements.
Executives were careful to emphasize that this change in reporting should “not impact the objectives which bring advertisers to Twitter or the information to which they have access today.”
How Investors Reacted
Despite stellar revenue and EPS numbers, market participants appeared to only focus on the lackluster guidance and plunge in MAUs. Shares of TWTR nosedived 9.8% on Thursday, closing at their lowest level since Jan. 7.
The Bigger Picture
The reaction to Twitter’s decline in user metrics is overestimated, largely because the majority of investors compare it to the user metrics of the platform’s current rivals: Snapchat and, of course, historically rivaling behemoth Facebook.
There’s no doubting the corroborating influence Twitter has on both shareholders and users, particularly the users that both favor President Trump and happen to be in CEO Jack Dorsey’s crosshairs. President Trump boasts 58.1 million followers, yet 61% of his followers were reportedly bots as of October 2018.
This grows into the most important factor behind Twitter’s MAU decline, and also something of a necessary evil to maintain the company’s health: much of the sharp drop in MAUs comes from the company suspending more than 70 million accounts linked to suspicious behavior or hate speech. These ongoing efforts have been illustrated in the banning of high-profile conspiracy theorists or alt-right activists, including Milo Yiannopoulis, Infowars founder Alex Jones, and the Infowars account itself, all boasting millions of followers.
The rally behind Twitter has been something of an anomaly among analysts. Josh Brown, CEO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, called the stock’s rebound last year “the best kept secret of 2018” compared to rival Facebook. With the frenzy surrounding the government control of social media, Twitter became a treasurable boon to the tech-heavy portfolios of yesteryear.
There’s a lot to glean from Twitter in that its controversies are largely similar to those of Facebook: spreading of misinformation and illegitimate accounts being just two. However, Twitter’s newfound adjustment to a “monetizable” audience will likely render the important growth metrics that analysts so favorably crave.
That being the case, Twitter boasts a strong road ahead for investors looking for a far cheaper investment than its more expensive (and more over-analyzed) counterparts.