Twitter COO departure spooked investors but not analysts

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
Twitter COO Anthony Noto is leaving the social network to run the finance startup SoFI.

Twitter COO Anthony Noto’s departure from the social network has investors concerned but not analysts.

On Tuesday, SoFi announced Noto was leaving Twitter (TWTR)  to lead the San Francisco-based finance startup. Twitter’s stock has dipped 3.2% since the news was announced and dropped 4.72% since the news first leaked last weekend. For now, investors appear spooked over the departure of Noto, who is credited for leading the social network’s marketing, investor relations and monetization efforts around live video streaming of events.

However, some analysts such as Omar Akhtar of Altimeter Group, said Noto’s absence from Twitter will have minimal impact on the company long-term. “I don’t think it’s going to affect Twitter too much really, only because I think a lot of the stuff Noto put in place is going to continue, and Twitter’s got a pretty deep bench of people to make sure that those practices still continue,” Akhtar explains.

On Twitter’s product side, the company has made some significant upgrades to its service to make it more appealing to mainstream users, such as doubling the character limit of tweets to 180 from 140 characters and tweaking Twitter timelines so users who check the service less frequently can catch up with highlights of notable tweets they missed from people they follow. Those sort of product decisions have ultimately always fallen under CEO Jack Dorsey’s purview not Noto’s, Aktar contends.

Management changes

For Twitter, really, the problem with Noto’s departure may have less to do with finding a capable replacement (which Twitter said it is seeking), and more to do with outside perception. Twitter experienced a management upheaval following Dorsey’s return to Twitter in 2015: COO Adam Bain, CTO Adam Messinger and SVP of Product Kevin Weil all left within 18 months. Noto’s departure after nearly three-and-a-half years at the company could be thought of as a bad sign to outsiders, regardless of his reason for leaving. In a research note on Monday, Evercore ISI emphasized Noto’s “constant presence,” calling him a “reassuring force for investors, even amidst the stock’s volatile performance over the past several years.”

How will advertisers react

More importantly, is how advertisers will receive Noto’s exit. If advertisers are alarmed, ad agencies may choose to reduce their budgets with Twitter, explained John Egbert, an analyst for investment banking firm Stifel Nicolaus. “That’s pretty critical for Twitter,” he said, adding that the company needs “to stabilize its revenue growth, which has been declining from the past several quarters.”

Indeed, for Twitter’s third-quarter 2017 earnings in October, the company reported a net income of $78 million on revenue of $590 million, down 4% year-over-year. The silver lining? The company saw a 4% uptick in monthly active users to 330 million. Twitter, meanwhile, said its daily active users grew 14% year-over-year. The company doesn’t specify how many DAUs it has  but Akhtar estimates that Twitter’s DAU’s are roughly half of Snapchat’s (SNAP), which reportedly has 178 million.

Given how fresh the news is of Noto’s exit, it’s too soon to tell how Twitter’s advertising efforts will be affected, if at all. While Twitter reports its fourth quarter 2017 earnings on Feb. 8, analysts say those results won’t be very telling. Instead, investors will likely pay extra close attention to Twitter’s first quarter 2018 earnings this spring to determine whether revenue actually take a hit.

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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