Twitter shares have been declining pretty steadily since April 2015, but they reached new record lows today as Wall Street mulled whether the micro-blogging platform has much of a future. The concerns about monthly active user growth—or the lack, thereof—have been around since the initial public offering, and some might question now how it’s possible to expect anything but failure from Twitter.
But Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Sandler is taking that bet. He continues to rate the micro-blogging company as a Buy with a $40 per share price target and says there’s much more to the story than just user growth.
Waiting for change at Twitter
He places his view on Twitter in the “highly-speculative contrarian long” category. Just like last year, he thinks the only thing that will cause investors to rerate the stock is a reacceleration in monthly active user growth, although he admits that it’s nearly impossible to predict when this might happen. Currently the stock trades at 10 times his below consensus 2017 EBITDA projection, so he thinks valuation currently reflects the concerns pretty much everyone on the Street is aware of, even if management’s guidance in the next earnings report is even worse than what most are expecting.
Sandler is waiting to see what new ad products CEO Jack Dorsey will bring to Twitter to close the gap between the platform’s core daily active users and the 1 billion mainstream non-Twitter users.
What to expect in Twitter’s earnings report
Twitter is set to release its fourth quarter earnings report early next month, and the Deutsche Bank team expects revenue of $703 million, which is a little less than the consensus estimate of $711 million. They expect O&O ad revenue to grow in the mid-30% range to come in at $556 million and continued strength in Twitter Audience Network revenue, which they estimate at $6 million.
In terms of new products, Sandler and team expect upbeat commentary from management around the new Moments feature and the recent integration of Periscope. They believe logged-out ads will only have a marginal effect on Twitter’s revenue this year, noting that the frequency of visits by those more than 500 million unique logged-out users is much lower than that of core Twitter users, so average revenue per user will likely “lag meaningfully.”
Sandler doesn’t expect any uptick in monthly active user adds, which he said usually drops off seasonally during the fourth quarter. He’s projecting 307 million, which is flat with the third quarter. He’s estimating $163 million in EBITDA or possibly a bit higher. Consensus is at $172 million.
It’s about quality, not quantity
The Deutsche Bank analyst thinks this year’s consensus estimate for revenue is too high with an estimated 41% ad revenue growth. He said guidance puts it closer to 30% growth. He expects sales revenue to be back-end loaded this year as the “plumbing” for the big direct response advertising push finishes up in the first half of this year and he doesn’t expect O&O ad revenue to rise until the third quarter, which he says is another non-consensus view.
In terms of product, he added that Twitter has a number of plans to shift from timeline views and more toward products that target mainstream social media users. He thinks the Periscope integration and similar efforts could result in more “iterations of things like Moments.”
Unlike most of Wall Street, which remains focused on monthly active user growth, Sandler thinks investors shouldn’t discount Twitter’s core daily active user base of 150 million, which he notes is stable rather than declining. This core user creates content every day, which he said could be leveraged to attract new users beyond the complex timeline that’s currently used. He adds that this contrarian view runs counter to the “‘everything is imploding’ bear case,” and he thinks that it will eventually stabilize the stock.
Shares of Twitter tumbled by another 5% during regular trading hours today, falling as low as $18.64.