Twitter shares soar on back of improved user numbers

Wednesday 30 July 2014 08.26
Twitter has made a number of tweaks to try to increase user engagement and attract new customers
Twitter has made a number of tweaks to try to increase user engagement and attract new customers

Twitter halted a slowdown in user-growth in the second quarter with the help of product tweaks and services built around the World Cup, assuaging concerns for now that the online messaging service had peaked.

Shares soared 35% after it reported monthly active users had risen a better-than-expected 24%.

This amounted to its largest gain in a single day and added almost $7bn to its market value.

Twitter, which has battled to reverse a steady decline in its once-heady pace of growth, surpassed targets for virtually every metric Wall Street scrutinises. 

Expectations had subsided ever since the company stunned investors in February with disappointingly low user growth.

Before yesterday’s after-hours surge, Twitter had lost about 40% of its market value since the start of 2014. 

The company now needs to demonstrate several quarters of respectable growth before investors can again back the 10-year-old company's growth story, analysts said.

"The expectations going in had become quite low," said Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia. "Even in the US their performance was good. For now, that will put to rest some of the concerns about US growth."

"One would still have to say that the jury is still out," Bhatia said. "You have to look maybe at what happens in the next quarter and see if they can continue to have upside on the user growth."

Twitter saw users increase to 271 million, still dwarfed by rival Facebook 1.3 billion. Wall Street analysts had been expecting a pace of growth closer to 21%.

Timeline views, a measure of the engagement of its users, also exceeded expectations with a 15% increase, far outpacing the roughly 8% expected.

Twitter, whose rapid-fire format has proven popular as a companion to major global events, may have enjoyed a boost from the World Cup. The world's most popular sporting event peaked with the finals in July.

Chief Executive Dick Costolo said in a conference call with analysts that the football tournament led existing users to spend more time on Twitter but did not contribute to the rise in new users during the quarter.

For the current quarter, Twitter is forecasting revenue of $330m to $340m, outpacing forecasts for around $323.7m, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters IBES.

User growth has stagnated since Twitter went public to much fanfare in November. 

Yet it remains valued at almost 200 times earnings, based on bullish investors' belief it can eventually transform itself into an Internet platform on the same scale as Facebook.

Incoming Finance Chief Anthony Noto set expectations high yesterday, telling analysts that he believed Twitter can build the "largest audience in the world."

Twitter executives noted several times on the call that the service's reach is greater than its 271 million monthly users, citing hundreds of millions of other people who visit the website or are exposed to Twitter content without being logged in to the service.

Some investors argue its reported user numbers do not fully reflect engagement, particularly with media viewers. Others say its inherently complex format deters wider adoption.

At its peak, Twitter enjoyed a $46bn capitalisation on $665m of revenue in 2013, making it at the time one of the world's priciest stocks.

But in past few months, Twitter has granted more prominent placement to photographs to liven up its interface, simplified the sign-up process, and allowed ads touting mobile-app installations to drive up revenue.

It reported a 124% jump in quarterly revenue to $312m, beating expectations for $283.1m. It posted non-GAAP net income of $14.6m or 2 cents a share, reversing a loss of $16.4m or 12 cents a share a year earlier.