Breaking from its past track record, social media wannabe Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) of late hasn't followed Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) meteoric stock price jump. For months, it seemed Twitter's stock price moved in lockstep with its more established and better monetized "rival." The disparity in size, growth possibilities, and most every other measure means there's really not much of a rivalry between the two, nor will there be in the near future. But Facebook's Messenger and new WhatsApp acquisition are squarely in Twitter's wheelhouse.
The obvious distinctions between the two well-known social media platforms aren't likely to prevent Twitter from feeling a bit of angst leading up to Today's second-quarter earnings news. Facebook's recently announced blowout second quarter raised the bar for Twitter, and with so many investors already bemoaning its slowing user growth, a higher bar was the last thing shareholders needed. Facebook's stellar results has left Twitter CEO Dick Costolo in the unenviable position of needing to knock investors' socks off.
Though its stock price has climbed back from the sell-off seen after the company announced its first-quarter numbers -- shares declined from a pre-announcement price of $42.62 to the $30 range the following week -- Twitter now finds itself in a similar position. However, there's one difference investors considering Twitter need to consider: the recently completed World Cup.
Both Twitter and Facebook became integral parts of the World Cup experience for fans around the world. Depending on how it's measured, Facebook seemed to come out on top, disclosing 3 billion "interactions" linked to the World Cup, while Twitter reported an impressive 672 million soccer-related tweets. Facebook has five times as many monthly average users, or MAUs, as Twitter, so the microblogger held its own, at least on a relative basis.
Taking the impact of the World Cup into account is particularly important for Twitter fans. The primary reason for last quarter's post-announcement selling spree was Twitter's difficulty in attracting new users, particularly users who actually tweet rather than simply open an account and let it sit idle.
Slow growth in any area is a frightening thought, considering that Twitter is in such an early phase in its development cycle. So you can bet investors will be paying close attention when Costolo shares user numbers, as well as Twitter's financials. Just remember to consider the World Cup factor and whether the residual benefits of all that activity will impact Twitter in the long term.
Considering Twitter's kindly comparables, expect to see big financial growth year over year. In the second quarter of 2013, Twitter generated a paltry $139.2 million in revenue. The consensus estimate for Tuesday's earnings is for $283 million in sales, which is expected to translate into a loss of $0.01 a share.
The Street's estimate would appear to be on the high side, considering that Costolo previously suggested second-quarter revenues would fall around $270 million. However, Costolo wouldn't be the first CEO to "unintentionally" suggest slightly lower future revenue to minimize expectations and increase the chances of beating estimates.
Are investors right to be concerned about Twitter's lack of users? You bet. In 2013, Twitter ended its second quarter boasting 218 million MAUs. In this year's first quarter, total MAUs had risen to all of 255 million. That's about a 17% increase in nine months. Facebook is operating on a scale Twitter can only dream about, yet it still nearly matches the upstart's user growth pace.
Final Foolish thoughts
If ever a social media upstart needed to blow the doors off earnings, it's Twitter. After Facebook raised the bar to dizzying heights with its second-quarter news last week, Twitter's road will get even bumpier if Costolo can't appease investors. But don't be too quick to rally around a probable jump in users as the basis to get on board with Twitter.
The World Cup and similar events like it are ideally suited for services like Twitter. But one-time events don't necessarily translate to long-term growth, something Twitter is in desperate need of demonstrating. It is likely many investors are sitting on the sidelines to see what Costolo can pull out of his hat. If that's you, nice move. There's only one way that Twitter's stock price pops, and that's by destroying expectations, sans World Cup-related activity. That's not a bet worth making.