Twitter CEO Dorsey Runs Out of Excuses

Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) posted one of its occasionally horrible quarters, which is either proof that its business model was always hopelessly flawed or that CEO Jack Dorsey is out of excuses for the deeply harmful stumbles of his four-year tenure. Investors should hope Twitter’s primary problem is bad management because at least that can be fixed.

The hopes for Twitter’s future always rode on two things. The first is that the number of users would rise quickly. The second is that advertisers would flock to the social media platform in greater and greater numbers. Neither happened in the third quarter. Investors paid for that as shares dropped 20%.

Twitter said its poor performance in the period was due to “headwinds.” That is an odd way to explain why its monetizable daily active user figure rose only 4% from the second quarter to 145 million. That is 17% higher than in the third quarter of 2018. Earnings were $0.17 per share, compared to Wall Street’s expectations of $0.20. Revenue was $824 million, less than the expected $874 million. Operating income fell from $92 million in the same quarter a year ago to $44 million.

For some reason, Twitter added 21% to its employee base and ended the quarter at 4,200 people. It is a puzzle why management would make this decision, given the overall financial performance.

Twitter made a special point when management wrote in its letter to shareholders: “Conversation is Twitter’s superpower. Promoting more conversation on Twitter ensures we are the place where people all around the world go to see and talk about what’s happening.” If so, earnings are Twitter’s kryptonite.

Twitter’s shares are down 6% in the past five years, while the Nasdaq is up 75%. That is before today’s sell-off. How long will the board keep Dorsey on?