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With Twitter's future prospects in focus, shares pop for a second day

Shares of Twitter briefly traded as much as 3 percent higher Thursday morning amid further speculation about the future of the struggling social media company.

The stock later pared some of those gains and ended the day 1.5 percent higher.

The company is attracting activists and all eyes are on Twitter's board meeting, scheduled for next Thursday, CNBC has learned. Topics of discussion at the meeting will include the growth rate of the company, and future options if growth continues to be anemic.

Shares of Twitter closed 4.5 percent higher Wednesday after co-founder Ev Williams said on Bloomberg TV that the company must "consider the right options" amid acquisition speculation. He also said the company is "in a strong position now."

The options market reflected that speculation, with the ratio of puts to calls near an all-time low, according to a Thursday note from Jim Strugger, managing director, derivatives strategist at MKM Partners. Shares were last up about 1 percent. (A call is the right to buy a stock for a given price within a given period of time, while a put is the right to sell a stock for a given price within a given period of time.)

Though Williams' comments echo wider sentiment, a contest for control of Twitter could take at least until July of next year to unfold, said Robert Peck, managing director and internet equity analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey.

"We don't think there's any takeout possibilities really in 2016," Peck told CNBC's "Fast Money: Halftime Report" on Thursday.

Twitter 3-day performance (as of Thursday morning trade)


Peck said that Twitter's new board seems to fully support co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, who returned permanently less than a year ago to help revitalize the company's product.

"They have a lot of things they're trying to do [in the fourth quarter]," Peck said. "I think you have to at least get through those changes, and then if you're on current trends, which have been getting worse, in 2017 I think you could actually see a takeout at that point."

Twitter has recently looked to video, including live sports broadcasts and paid user-generated content as ad revenue has failed to keep up with growth in active users. But that strategy comes with challenges for the mobile-centric platform, as "it will take time for marketers to understand the impact of video ads on mobile vs. the alternative," the company said when it reported second-quarter earnings.

"We continue to view TWTR as a story with great unmet potential, but remain concerned that time may be running out," MKM Partners Internet Analyst Rob Sanderson wrote in a research note Thursday, lowering estimates for Twitter's stock. "We consider Live Events a make-or-break strategy for the company."

Based on data from consultants, Peck said he thinks that live sporting events like the Olympics did not help drive Twitter's user growth in August. He pointed to other features he said have yet to inflect user numbers, such as Moments, an icon that reveals a snapshot of reactions to trending topics, and integration with Google Search.

"I'm not sure what an activist could actually do to help out on the product side in turning things around," Peck said. "You can always talk about cutting costs — which they've been doing — but they need to invest in product."

 Twitter on a screen
Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The company has seen less advertiser demand than expected in recent months, it said in its most recent earnings report, It said in July it expects third-quarter revenue of $590 million to $610 million, well below analyst expectations for $678 million, according to a Thomson Reuters consensus estimate.

Twitter shares are more than 25 percent lower over the last 12 months but tracking for weekly gains of more than 7.5 percent. The stock is still below its IPO price of $26 a share.

Still, Sanderson doesn't expect a buyer of Twitter to emerge anytime soon based on "stalled user growth, ongoing monetization issues and increasing competition," according to Strugger's note.

If another company, a private equity firm or an activist investor were to look to take over the social media company, Twitter's price, profits and valuation could become a difficult topic in the bidding process, said Peck. Peck expects tech giants like Google, Facebook, or even large media and telecom companies, would only show interest in buying Twitter if some sort of sales process was already launched.

"It's a phenomenal property," Peck said. "It's staying relatively stable and has a huge impact as far as news dissemination. That, I don't think, is the issue. The question is, 'What would you pay for it?'"

Chatter around technology mergers and acquisitions follows Microsoft's blockbuster $26.2 billion agreement to buy LinkedIn earlier this summer, which sent shares of LinkedIn soaring.

"Since the LinkedIn acquisition in June, we've seen a lot of these premiums baked in to not only Twitter, but some of the other stocks as well as people are focusing on M&A," Peck said.

Also sold this summer was Yahoo, a company that Peck said could be a proxy for Twitter's future.

"If users continue to deteriorate and the revenues are flat, you are in a Yahoo scenario," Peck said.

— Reporting by CNBC's David Faber. Alex Rosenberg contributed to this report.

Disclosure: SunTrust Robinson Humphrey has received compensation for non-securities services from Twitter within the last 12 months.