Twitter steps out of Dorsey’s shadow
Head of Equity Strategy
Summary: Twitter's founder Jack Dorsey is stepping down as CEO leaving the reign to CTO Parag Agrawal. This is hopefully the beginning of a new trajectory for Twitter that has underperformed relative to its potential for way too long. The company has two main objectives. Lift revenue growth to around 30% which would put Twitter well above Facebook and Alphabet in terms of growth, and then drastically improve the operating margin to around 35% which would be almost double of the current level.
Is this Twitter’s Nadella moment?
Another technology founder in Silicon Valley is leaving the stage, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta is one of the few left, with Jack Dorsey stepping down as CEO after presumed a lot of pressure from shareholders such as the activist hedge fund Elliott Management. His successor is the CTO Parag Agrawal and Dorsey will stay on the board for 2022. The main question is whether this is Twitter’s Nadella moment (Nadella is the current CEO of Microsoft and took over in 2014) meaning whether the new CEO with less strings attached and not being a founder can drastically change the growth and product profile of the company.
Too much fat
Our main issue with Twitter has always been the lack of consistency in operating margins. Given how consistent Google and Facebook are running their business it has always been a mystery why Twitter has not been more consistent in its operating performance. The company’s operating margin has come down for three straight quarters despite a healthy backdrop for online advertising spending in terms of demand and pricing. Free cash flow generation has been very disappointing over the past year and ultimately that has been driving the share price lower. Twitter has to fundamentally improve the EBITDA margin from its current 18.5% to somewhere closer to 35%; it will be a stretch to demand Facebook-like margin of 50%. If Twitter’s new CEO can deliver that then shareholders are in for some great returns. But more importantly there are no excuses for not delivering high revenue growth while improving the operating margin when you are generating $5bn in annual revenue. Facebook and many other technology companies have been able to grow revenue and operating margin at the same time. Twitter must do the same.
So there are two operating yardsticks for shareholders: revenue growth and operating margin. The latter should easily be done by either reducing headcount or at least stop hiring more people at the same pace as before. On revenue growth the key yardstick is to grow faster than the duopoly (Meta and Alphabet) which is expected to grow revenue around 20-25%. Twitter needs to take market share and get closer to Snap revenue growth in order not to lose the narrative and sentiment from investors. In our book, Twitter should be able to grow 30-35% on improved engagement, product features, more brand spending from large brands etc. and with analysts currently estimating 21% revenue growth in 2022, there is a heavy and urgent task ahead for the new CEO.
Twitter is an acquisition target
With Dorsey gone as CEO and eventually leaving the board by late 2022, it clears the way for an acquisition of the company should the right buyer with the right price come by. Twitter could be an interesting bolt-on acquisition for a traditional media company that wants to enter the social media industry. Investors were initially trading the shares higher on the news of Dorsey stepping down, but the shares ended lower for the session now down 43% from the peak in late February. Given the expectations from earlier this year it is clear that the company has not performed as expected and the new CEO Agrawal will have to quickly earn the trust of investors. For Twitter we really hope this is the company’s Nadella moment. Analysts remain positive on the stock with a 12-month price target of $68 which 49% above yesterday’s close.