Twitter sale could happen in October, but it's a muddle

The social network reportedly has told potential buyers it wants to wrap up negotiations by October 27. If only it were that simple.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read

Suppose they held a bidding war and nobody came.

That could be the uncomfortable situation for Twitter just days after reports suggested that the social network could be an acquisition target for some of the biggest tech and media companies on the planet.

A looming, self-imposed deadline likely won't help matters. Reuters reported Wednesday that the social network has told potential buyers it wants to wrap up negotiations on a sale by October 27.

If only it were that simple. Though they had taken notice of Twitter's for-sale sign, Apple, Disney and Google parent company Alphabet reportedly now have little to no interest in an acquisition. That apparently leaves only cloud software giant Salesforce as a serious potential suitor.

Wall Street did not like hearing that. On Thursday, Twitter shares tumbled 20 percent, closing at $19.87.

Alphabet, Apple and Disney did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. On Wednesday, both Salesforce and Twitter declined to comment.

If Salesforce were to take over Twitter, it could turn the social network's focus to customer support or mine data for business intelligence, Reuters suggested.

But James Cakmak, an analyst with Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co., isn't so sure Salesforce would be Twitter's best option. One issue that gets lost amid the hype, he said Thursday, is that Salesforce has very little cash to apply to a purchase of Twitter and its shareholders would likely balk at raising something like $20 billion in debt.

"Sure, [Salesforce] can integrate with the marketing cloud to attract bigger budgets from businesses and better utilize data to enhance customer relationship management tools. We get that," he said. "However, are they the company that can make the best use of the asset and help improve the consumer-facing elements of the product and service? We're not so sure."

If Salesforce is the sole remaining bidder, Twitter may be destined to remain independent until it gets closer to the valuation it's looking for, according to Cakmak.

Meanwhile, SunTrust analyst Robert Peck said Thursday he thinks even Salesforce is out of the running and that potential suitors could now include IBM, Verizon, AT&T, Microsoft, Oracle and Comcast.

Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Microsoft declined to comment. The other two companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"If Twitter's currently challenging trends continue, then [merger and acquisition] is inevitable," Peck said. "However, we think the CEO would like to see whether many of his recent initiatives can work in turning around Twitter user and engagement growth before seeking strategic alternatives."

Twitter's latest bid for engagement: live-streaming NFL Thursday night games.

Enlarge Image

Twitter investor Chris Sacca thinks the social network is ripe for sale.

Byron Purvis/AdMedia

Rumors of a potential buyout have swirled for almost a year as Twitter reported three consecutive quarters of zero user growth. In July, the company told investors it's having trouble competing for advertising dollars. The string of bad news made Twitter a more affordable acquisition target as investors abandoned the company. In February, its market value dropped to less than $10 billion, an all-time low.

Earlier this week, major Twitter investor Chris Sacca said he's been selling his stock and wants the social network to be acquired.

"I've definitely sold some Twitter shares," Sacca told Bloomberg TV Tuesday. "I don't own as many as I used to because I'm not an idiot, but I own more than I should because I'm an idiot."

A little over a year ago, Sacca was a loud voice calling for Twitter to reappoint co-founder Jack Dorsey as CEO, a post he held from 2006 to 2008. Dorsey retook the reins a year ago this week.

Twitter's shares closed Wednesday at $24.87, for a $17.3 billion market cap. Sacca said he doesn't see a buyer shelling out more than the current stock price.

"I don't see how it gets materially better over the next two years without fresh blood," Sacca said. "I literally should go to a Twitter therapist, just the 10 years of stress and trauma with this company."

Sacca didn't respond to CNET's requests for comment.

First published October 4, 4:19 p.m. PT.
Updated several times, most recently October 6 at 2:12 p.m. PT: Added information including Twitter's October 27 deadline, statements from companies, analyst comments, updates on potential buyers and Thursday's closing price for Twitter shares.