Here's how deep Twitter's slide could get if Google, other bidders are out

Here's how deep Twitter's slide could get if Google, other bidders are out
Published: Oct 6, 2016 11:05 a.m. ET


Deep-pocketed suitors are reportedly dropping their bids for Twitter - a blow that could deal a hefty hit to the social media company's shares, analysts said Thursday.

Twitter Inc. TWTR, -20.45% traded down 16% to $20.81 a share at the open of trading, after a late-session drop Wednesday that coincided with a Recode report, citing unnamed sources, saying Alphabet Inc.'s GOOGL, +0.50%  Google isn't currently planning a bid.

Apple Inc. AAPL, +0.97% and Walt Disney Co. DIS, +0.56% DIS, +0.56% were
also struck off the buyers' list by Recode, again citing unnamed sources.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment. Disney and Apple did not immediately return a request for comment.

The social media messaging service was all set to field bids this week, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, noting another big name in the pot, CRM, +3.93% as the likely front-runner.

Twitter's overnight tumble

The frenzied buyout talk kicked off with a Sept. 23 report that Salesforce was considering an offer for Twitter, prompting TWTR shares to jump 21%.

Twitter has rallied from $18.63 the day before that report, to $24.87 at Wednesday's regular-session close, which was the highest finish since last December. That move also brought shares closer to Twitter's IPO price of $26.

Salesforce shares slid 8% Wednesday, but were up some 3.6% early Thursday, after analysts at Mizuho trashed the idea of a Twitter bid, saying it could destroy up to 25% of the cloud-computing company's value. It would take Salesforce two to three years to recoup that value, the analysts said.

Google has the deepest pockets among the potential suitors, said Peter Garnry, head of equity strategy at Saxo Bank. That's why loss of the search engine's interest is perhaps the biggest disappointment.

The blow of a Google bow out: "We have always thought Google was the best fit for Twitter, for the simple reason that Google never really carved out a main, dominant space in social media...and Facebook FB, +0.38%  cornered the whole market," said Garnry. If Google is indeed out of the game, then Disney makes the most sense as the second-choice suitor, he added.

On the upside, Disney's ownership of ESPN would make it easy to integrate Twitter, whose biggest asset right now is streaming sporting events.

However, costs again are of chief concern. The entertainment giant generates around $7.8 billion in free cash flow for Disney, so paying close to $20 billion for Twitter would be a sizable deal, and present higher risk than for someone like Google, said the strategist.

Garnry owns Twitter in a small equity portfolio at Saxo, which he said they bought on May 11 at $14.56 per share. He said they were encouraged by how fast the business was turning around with free cash flow. But user engagement was, and still is, a problem. The sporting events business for Twitter was also a huge draw.

"They really have a crown jewel there, and the question is if they can turn it into a money machine to justify the valuation," he said, adding that his firm has always thought Twitter could unlock value if it sheds some of its
4,000 employees.

With Disney and Google reportedly out of the bidding process, James Cakmak, an analyst with Monness, Crespi, Hardt, is unsure that Salesforce acquisition makes sense or if the company could even afford Twitter.

"If Salesforce is that last potential bidder, Twitter may be destined to remain independent until a more reasonable valuation is available," Cakmak wrote.

Cakmak said he believes Twitter will be looking for an all-cash deal and he doesn't believe Salesforce has that cash. Salesforce had $1.1 billion in cash and cash equivalents as of July 31.

With $17 billion in revenue, Cakmak said he believes the Twitter acquisition price would be $50 per monthly active user or $110 per daily active user.

If there were multiple bidders, Cakmak said there could have been a possible
$20 billion acquisition price. But with big suitors reportedly dropping out, he sees more downside risk to the valuation.

Salesforce could use Twitter as a data asset if it integrates it with its marketing cloud, but Cakmak said he doesn't believe that would be the most helpful solution for Salesforce.

Downside danger for Twitter shares: Ahead of what was shaping up to be a bumpy day for Twitter shares, Garnry drew his line in the sand: Twitter is a stock that is priced to perfection if you consider that an acquisition by Google, if it happens, is already baked in.

"If it goes to $23 today, we are out," he said, adding that given the huge volatility around Twitter shares, they could easily go lower than that.

He said Silicon Valley was getting interested in Twitter when it was trading around $15, but with shares at $24-$25 and a $17.5 billion valuation, the limit on potential upside is getting close. And he added, the pressure will be on Twitter to churn out a pretty good set of earnings results on Oct. 25.

That brings Garnry to another point. He said it'd be crazy for a suitor to buy Twitter ahead of those results, unless they were privy to credible, related data.

Chris Bailey, founder of Financial Orbit, said Twitter shares could drop more than 10% Thursday, which was already happening, as a market that had gotten ahead of itself, tries to adjust.

"Fundamentally the numbers are not supportive of a share price here, so there is a balance game between the value of info/the franchise and the actual profit/cash flow numbers. A mid-teens share price seems to offer some support between these two aspects," he said.

"My gut: Twitter gets taken out in the next couple of years by a top-tier tech name recognizing the value of real-time info/eyeballs. Price? $20s. My trading instinct is to buy every couple of [dollar moves] below $20, i.e.
$19s, $17s, $15s..." Bailey said in emailed comments.

Sven Henrich, otherwise known as Northman Trader, says Twitter has been in a "constant downtrend" since the IPO, making a "double bottom" in February and May. But he noted that shares are now back near that listing price.

"In lieu of buyout [talk], the stock must hold $20/$21 or risk heading back into the $14-$19 range," he said, in emailed comments.



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