Should Twitter Return Its Cash to Investors?

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With its potential buyers gone, and a business stuck in reverse, one thing Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) could do is turn its hoard of cash back to investors, probably via a one-time dividend. At least shareholders would get something other than a rapidly falling stock.

Twitter’s market cap is $12 billion, and if it posts poor third-quarter earnings, that likely will go lower. In the past two years, Twitter shares are off 64%. It is stuck at 300 million users, a figure that did not change in the most recent quarter and has no sign of increasing.

Twitter does not need the money it has. In the most recent quarter, management wrote:

We ended the quarter with $3.6 billion in cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities. GAAP net cash provided by operating activities in the period was $215 million. Adjusted free cash flow was $154 million, compared to ($8) million last year.

Non-GAAP net income was $93 million, up from $49 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

Although most cash is returned to shareholders slowly through rising dividends and share buybacks, there is one example of a large, single cash return. In late 2014, Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) had a special dividend of $3 a share, which amounted to a total of $32 billion. That is a much larger total cash return than Twitter can make, but it is an example of putting investors first.