Twitter's Q2 earnings put user numbers, slowing revenue growth in focus

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter.
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When Twitter reports its second-quarter earnings after the bell on Tuesday, investors will see the results of one year with co-founder Jack Dorsey at the helm.

It's no coincidence that one day ahead of Twitter's highly scrutinized report, the company unveiled a new live-streaming sports deal that shows Twitter's new focus. The deal means Twitter will live stream weekly out-of-market games from Major League Baseball and the National Hockey league, as well as a first-of-its-kind nightly sports highlights program that will appear exclusively on Twitter.

This builds on the company's existing content deal with the NFL and its partnership with CBS to live stream the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Twitter is keen to host the type of content that people want to watch live, in the hope of luring new users and keeping its current users hooked.

And it's those user numbers that are very much going to be in the spotlight on earnings day; stagnating user growth has dragged Twitter shares down over the past year. Twitter's stock is down about 20 percent so far this year, though it has rebounded about 18 percent over the past month.

Wall Street analysts project the company will show it added just 2 million monthly active users in Q2 compared to the prior quarter, with projections for less than 4 million users to be added in Q3.

This stagnating growth is particularly striking in contrast to the growth seen at other social media platforms: Facebook has just announced that its Messenger app has 1 billion users, joining Facebook's other messaging app, WhatsApp, which also has 1 billion user. Facebook itself has 1.65 billion monthly active users, while Instagram now has 500 million monthly active users and its app has has 500 million monthly active users as well. Snapchat's focus is on its daily active users — now sitting at about 150 million — while Twitter has stopped providing daily active user numbers. Even Japanese chat app Line has 218 monthly active users.

Then there's the issue of revenue. If Twitter meets Wall Street expectations of 21 percent revenue growth, which is the top of the company's sales guidance, that would represent its slowest quarter of growth since Twitter went public in 2013. Earnings are projected to grow 37 percent to 10 cents per share.

Investors will focus on CEO Jack Dorsey and COO Anthony Noto's commentary on whether recent product changes, such as improvements to the timeline and the sign-up process, are driving stronger engagement and user growth.

Morgan Stanley, which has an underweight rating on the stock, says question marks remain around user growth.

"Our latest data and consistent commentary around the inability to break into the 'mass market' makes us wary of Twitter's addressable audience," analyst Brian Nowak writes. "The question marks around the company's ability to drive future user growth appear unlikely to go away in the near. Time spent per existing user is also in decline."

Investors can also expect plenty of management commentary — as well as analysts' questions — about the live streaming partnerships, and how they could boost revenue.

JP Morgan's Doug Anmuth writes that he's looking for an update on "Twitter's early efforts in selling available inventory around NFL games and other recent live streaming events." Anmuth notes that marketers have likely held back some spending for the upcoming Rio Olympics - money that could drive a short-term spike in the third quarter.

Some are looking even further ahead.

"We wonder whether Twitter's focus on live video is a way to make Twitter more palatable as an acquisition candidate," BTIG's Rich Greenfield writes in a note on Monday. "With Twitter's pivot to live video, it potentially gives legacy media companies who are already heavily invested in sports (and news) a way to address their mobile shortcomings, while remaining focused on the content verticals they already prefer."

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