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埃隆·马斯克成功收购了推特公司——一家几乎一切都需要修复的破败企业

Shawn Tully
2022-04-29

就推特而言,几乎所有的东西都需要修复。

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埃隆·马斯克成功收购推特(Twitter),将其变成一家私人控股公司。而推特本身呢?并非很成功。

正如《财富》杂志报道的那样:推特“宣布其董事会已经一致接受马斯克440亿美元的收购提议,这将使该公司的股票估值达到每股54.20美元。一旦交易完成,推特将成为一家私人控股公司。”

当收购方同意为目标公司支付高额溢价时,他们就会为削减成本、吸引更多用户以及改善运营以收回额外花费的数十亿美元而制定蓝图。但马斯克没有宣布任何计划,从而让推特转变为更好的企业。就推特而言,几乎所有的东西都需要修复。它的用户增长正在放缓;运营成本和资本支出过高;并且在容易遭受入侵的领域容易受到入侵者的攻击。投资研究公司New Constructs的首席执行官大卫·特雷纳说:“推特无法让产品变得独一无二,只是比群发短信功能更强大一点。推特的股价不应该超过10美元或15美元。”高盛集团(Goldman Sachs)也并不看好推特,称如果没有马斯克,推特的基本业务价值为每股30美元至36美元。

简而言之,马斯克为一家处于衰退中且没有反弹迹象的企业付出了高昂的代价。当然,这位身价为2500亿美元的企业家只将15%的净资产投放在推特上,但他也在做其他所有公司掠夺者都认为很疯狂的事情:为推特烧掉数十亿美元。

推特的增长放缓

从上市的2013年到2017年,推特总共亏损了23亿美元,但在2018年和2019年,推特的利润增长强劲。推特似乎在追求经典的科技公司发展模式,即初期发展时赤字,然后在快速增长期获取收益,这将使其大市值股票变得合理。然而,这一理想情况并没有发生。推特的用户群增长急剧放缓。从2019年第一季度到2021年第二季度的五个季度中,其可盈利的日活跃用户增加了39%或5200万,平均每三个月增加1000万。但在截至2021年年底的18个月里,其用户群仅增加了3100万,是2019年和2021年年初增速的一半。随着核心收入增长放缓,推特的成本激增。从2019年到2021年,推特的销售额增长了47%,而支出却飙升了80%。推特将成本激增归咎于巨额支出,这些支出是推动下一轮扩张所需的新人员和基础设施方面的支出。

然而,推特似乎只是需要投入更多的资金来留住老用户和吸引新员工。尤其令人不安的是,其2021年的资本支出达到10亿美元,创下历史新高,这一数字几乎是2019年繁盛时期支出额的两倍。这些资金外流让推特的自由现金流达到近负4亿美元。然而,在2021年年底,董事会制定了一项40亿美元的回购计划。推特正在亏损,因此,这些资金不可能来自公司利润。因此,它可能会从库存中提取现金,甚至可能是借贷,来支持回购。因此,该政策使得推特在艰难时期的财务缓冲能力下降,从而让推特的未来发展承担更大的风险。

表现不佳

为了衡量推特的表现,我请会计专家杰克·切谢尔斯基(Jack Ciesielski)对其现金产生与资产的增长情况进行了分析。换句话说,推特将所有支出用于计算机系统、新收购——它在2021年收购了7家年轻的媒体公司——以及其他投资,那么推特是如何盈利的?切谢尔斯基运用一种称为资产现金回报率的指标,来衡量推特的表现。他首先从运营中获取现金,然后通过增加利息和以现金支付的方式来缴纳联邦及州税款来消除杠杆和缴税带来的影响。减去基于股份的补偿,作为一种实际成本,它暂时性增加了现金流,因为当限制性股票和期权归属时,打击就会以稀释的形式出现。他把分子称为“经营性现金流”。作为分母,资产现金回报率使用当年的平均资产,加上累计折旧,来计算公司生命周期内在厂房和设备上的所有支出。因此,资产现金回报率是一个很好的指标,能够说明一家公司在业务上每投资一美元可以产生多少净现金。

推特是一个典型案例,它的规模越来越大,但与此同时,盈利能力却越来越差。自2016年以来,2021年,其调整后的资产已经翻了一番,达到140亿美元。但它的经营性现金流并未保持在6亿美元的低水平范围内。自2019年年底以来,它的资产增加了近17亿美元,经营性现金流从9.58亿美元缩减到1.58亿美元,缩减幅度超过80%。简而言之,推特在平台建设方面投入的资金越来越多,而产生的现金却越来越少。它投入的资金越多,收益就越少。

盈利方面出现的障碍

在特雷纳看来,推特缺乏“护城河”,或者说壁垒,来防止竞争对手将如今的推特用户引向自己的网站。他表示:“推特实际上是一个美化的聊天室。它并没有多大的发展。竞争对手从头开始构建类似的模型并不难,而且它已经面临来自Instagram和Snapchat的竞争。我清楚地记得美国在线公司(AOL)的Messenger和Friendster等曾经的市场领导者的遭遇。”他补充说,推特的难题在于,它无法在不与用户对立的情况下提高利润。他指出:“为了获得更多利润,推特需要投放更多的广告,而大量广告妨碍用户使用产品。用户只想阅读他们想阅读的内容和发表他们想发表的内容,而不希望被广告轰炸。”如果广告严重干扰用户,用户就会转而使用竞争对手的平台。这就是为什么推特在新用户流不断放缓的情况下,支出却不断增加。

埃隆·马斯克是一位伟大的、有远见卓识的人。到目前为止,他的目标是将推特打造为一个大型而热闹的公共广场,公众能够在这个公共广场上自由表达想法。但马斯克也喜欢赚钱,和大多数亿万富翁一样,他对损失钱财耿耿于怀。他将成为自己梦想中的舞台的所有者、主持人和主要发言人。但这个舞台可能会吞噬他的数十亿美元现金。(财富中文网)

译者:中慧言-王芳

埃隆·马斯克成功收购推特(Twitter),将其变成一家私人控股公司。而推特本身呢?并非很成功。

正如《财富》杂志报道的那样:推特“宣布其董事会已经一致接受马斯克440亿美元的收购提议,这将使该公司的股票估值达到每股54.20美元。一旦交易完成,推特将成为一家私人控股公司。”

当收购方同意为目标公司支付高额溢价时,他们就会为削减成本、吸引更多用户以及改善运营以收回额外花费的数十亿美元而制定蓝图。但马斯克没有宣布任何计划,从而让推特转变为更好的企业。就推特而言,几乎所有的东西都需要修复。它的用户增长正在放缓;运营成本和资本支出过高;并且在容易遭受入侵的领域容易受到入侵者的攻击。投资研究公司New Constructs的首席执行官大卫·特雷纳说:“推特无法让产品变得独一无二,只是比群发短信功能更强大一点。推特的股价不应该超过10美元或15美元。”高盛集团(Goldman Sachs)也并不看好推特,称如果没有马斯克,推特的基本业务价值为每股30美元至36美元。

简而言之,马斯克为一家处于衰退中且没有反弹迹象的企业付出了高昂的代价。当然,这位身价为2500亿美元的企业家只将15%的净资产投放在推特上,但他也在做其他所有公司掠夺者都认为很疯狂的事情:为推特烧掉数十亿美元。

推特的增长放缓

从上市的2013年到2017年,推特总共亏损了23亿美元,但在2018年和2019年,推特的利润增长强劲。推特似乎在追求经典的科技公司发展模式,即初期发展时赤字,然后在快速增长期获取收益,这将使其大市值股票变得合理。然而,这一理想情况并没有发生。推特的用户群增长急剧放缓。从2019年第一季度到2021年第二季度的五个季度中,其可盈利的日活跃用户增加了39%或5200万,平均每三个月增加1000万。但在截至2021年年底的18个月里,其用户群仅增加了3100万,是2019年和2021年年初增速的一半。随着核心收入增长放缓,推特的成本激增。从2019年到2021年,推特的销售额增长了47%,而支出却飙升了80%。推特将成本激增归咎于巨额支出,这些支出是推动下一轮扩张所需的新人员和基础设施方面的支出。

然而,推特似乎只是需要投入更多的资金来留住老用户和吸引新员工。尤其令人不安的是,其2021年的资本支出达到10亿美元,创下历史新高,这一数字几乎是2019年繁盛时期支出额的两倍。这些资金外流让推特的自由现金流达到近负4亿美元。然而,在2021年年底,董事会制定了一项40亿美元的回购计划。推特正在亏损,因此,这些资金不可能来自公司利润。因此,它可能会从库存中提取现金,甚至可能是借贷,来支持回购。因此,该政策使得推特在艰难时期的财务缓冲能力下降,从而让推特的未来发展承担更大的风险。

表现不佳

为了衡量推特的表现,我请会计专家杰克·切谢尔斯基(Jack Ciesielski)对其现金产生与资产的增长情况进行了分析。换句话说,推特将所有支出用于计算机系统、新收购——它在2021年收购了7家年轻的媒体公司——以及其他投资,那么推特是如何盈利的?切谢尔斯基运用一种称为资产现金回报率的指标,来衡量推特的表现。他首先从运营中获取现金,然后通过增加利息和以现金支付的方式来缴纳联邦及州税款来消除杠杆和缴税带来的影响。减去基于股份的补偿,作为一种实际成本,它暂时性增加了现金流,因为当限制性股票和期权归属时,打击就会以稀释的形式出现。他把分子称为“经营性现金流”。作为分母,资产现金回报率使用当年的平均资产,加上累计折旧,来计算公司生命周期内在厂房和设备上的所有支出。因此,资产现金回报率是一个很好的指标,能够说明一家公司在业务上每投资一美元可以产生多少净现金。

推特是一个典型案例,它的规模越来越大,但与此同时,盈利能力却越来越差。自2016年以来,2021年,其调整后的资产已经翻了一番,达到140亿美元。但它的经营性现金流并未保持在6亿美元的低水平范围内。自2019年年底以来,它的资产增加了近17亿美元,经营性现金流从9.58亿美元缩减到1.58亿美元,缩减幅度超过80%。简而言之,推特在平台建设方面投入的资金越来越多,而产生的现金却越来越少。它投入的资金越多,收益就越少。

盈利方面出现的障碍

在特雷纳看来,推特缺乏“护城河”,或者说壁垒,来防止竞争对手将如今的推特用户引向自己的网站。他表示:“推特实际上是一个美化的聊天室。它并没有多大的发展。竞争对手从头开始构建类似的模型并不难,而且它已经面临来自Instagram和Snapchat的竞争。我清楚地记得美国在线公司(AOL)的Messenger和Friendster等曾经的市场领导者的遭遇。”他补充说,推特的难题在于,它无法在不与用户对立的情况下提高利润。他指出:“为了获得更多利润,推特需要投放更多的广告,而大量广告妨碍用户使用产品。用户只想阅读他们想阅读的内容和发表他们想发表的内容,而不希望被广告轰炸。”如果广告严重干扰用户,用户就会转而使用竞争对手的平台。这就是为什么推特在新用户流不断放缓的情况下,支出却不断增加。

埃隆·马斯克是一位伟大的、有远见卓识的人。到目前为止,他的目标是将推特打造为一个大型而热闹的公共广场,公众能够在这个公共广场上自由表达想法。但马斯克也喜欢赚钱,和大多数亿万富翁一样,他对损失钱财耿耿于怀。他将成为自己梦想中的舞台的所有者、主持人和主要发言人。但这个舞台可能会吞噬他的数十亿美元现金。(财富中文网)

译者:中慧言-王芳

Elon Musk's bid to take Twitter private was a success. The business itself? Not so much.

As Fortune reported: Twitter "announced its Board of Directors had unanimously accepted Musk’s $44 billion buyout, which will value the company’s shares at $54.20. Twitter will become a privately held company once the deal is completed."

When acquirers agree to pay a big premium for a target, they harbor a blueprint for chopping costs, luring lots more customers, and otherwise improving operations to recoup the extra billions and then some. But Musk has announced no plans to make Twitter a better business. And nearly everything about Twitter needs fixing. Its user growth is flagging; its operating costs and capital expenditures are excessive; and it's vulnerable to invaders in field that's easy to invade. "Twitter can't make their product unique; they're a slightly more robust version of group texting," says David Trainer, CEO of investment research firm New Constructs. "Its shares shouldn't be worth more than $10 or $15." Goldman Sachs isn't a fan either, stating that sans Musk, Twitter's basic business is worth $30 to $36 a share.

Put simply, Musk is vastly overpaying for an enterprise in decline that shows no signs of rebounding. Sure, the quarter-of-a-trillion-dollar man is parking just 15% of his net worth in Twitter, but he's also doing what every other corporate raider would consider deranged: burning billions.

Twitter's slowing growth

After losing a total of $2.3 billion from 2013, the year it went public, through 2017, Twitter booked strong profits in both 2018 and 2019. It appeared to be pursuing the classic tech model of youthful deficits followed by fast-ramping earnings that would make its big market cap make sense. That didn't happen: Growth in the social media's Twittering customer base slowed dramatically. Over the five quarters from Q1 of 2019 to Q2 of 2021, its monetizable daily active users swelled by 39% or 52 million, an average of 10 million every three months. But in the 18 months through the end of 2021, its customer base rose by only 31 million, half the pace of 2019 and early 2021. As core revenue growth slowed, costs exploded. Between 2019 and 2021, sales rose by 47% while expenses rocketed 80%. The company blamed the ramp-up in costs on heavy spending for the new personnel and infrastructure needed to propel the next wave of expansion.

Instead, it appears that Twitter simply needs to spend a lot more to keep the same customers and attract each new recruit. It's especially troubling that its capital expenditures in 2021 reached an all-time high of $1 billion, almost double the figure in the flush days of 2019. Those outflows saddled Twitter with negative free cash flow of almost $400 million. Yet in late 2021, the board instituted a $4 billion buyback program. Those funds can't come from profits, since Twitter is losing money. So it could be tapping cash from its treasury, and maybe even borrowing, to back the repurchases. Hence the policy makes Twitter's fortunes a lot riskier by lowering its financial cushion during tough times.

Underperforming

To gauge Twitter's performance, I asked accounting expert Jack Ciesielski to provide an analysis of its cash generation versus the growth in its assets. In other words, how profitably is Twitter deploying all those outlays on computer systems, new acquisitions—it acquired seven young media players in 2021—and its other investments? Ciesielski deploys a metric called cash return on assets, or COROA. He starts by taking cash from operations, then eliminates the impact of leverage and taxes by adding back interest and federal and state levies paid in cash. Share-based comp is subtracted, as a real cost that temporarily inflates cash flow, since the hit, in the form of dilution, comes later when restricted stock and options vest. He calls the numerator "operating cash flows." As a denominator, COROA uses average assets for the year, but adds back accumulated depreciation to count all the spending on plant and equipment in the company's lifetime. Hence, COROA is an excellent proxy for how much pure cash a company generates for every dollar invested in the business.

Twitter is a case study in getting bigger and less profitable at the same time. Since 2016, its adjusted assets have doubled to $14 billion last year. But its operating cash flows haven't stayed flat in the low-$600-million range. Since the close of 2019, it's added almost $1.7 billion in assets and has seen operating cash flow shrink by over 80% from $958 million to $158 million. Put simply, Twitter is investing more and more billions in building its platform, and generating less and less cash. The more it spends, the less it harvests.

Barriers to profitability

For Trainer, Twitter lacks the "moat," or rampart, to prevent rivals from luring today's tweeters to their own sites. "Twitter's really a glorified chat room," he says. "It hasn't done much to evolve. Competitors wouldn't have a hard time building a similar model from scratch, and it's already facing competition from Instagram and Snapchat. I remember vividly what happened to such onetime market leaders as AOL's Messenger and Friendster." Twitter's conundrum, he adds, is that it can't boost profits without antagonizing its customers. "To get more profitable, Twitter would need to run far more ads," he says. "And the blizzard of ads gets in the way of using the product. People don't want to be bombarded with ads instead of reading what they want to read and publishing what they want to publish." If ads get too intrusive, tweeters will move on to rival platforms. That's why Twitter keeps spending more and more as its stream of new customers keeps slowing.

Elon Musk is a great visionary. So far, his goal for Twitter is creating a great, buzzing public square for open expression. But Musk also loves to make money, and like most billionaires, he takes losing it personally. He will be the owner, host, and principal voice in this arena of his dreams. But it may swallow his cash by the billions.

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