Dorsey's Confidence-Inspiring Twitter Purchase Pales in Comparison With His Stock Sales

Boosting Twitter's Image on Wall Street and Beyond

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Jack Dorsey, interim CEO and co-founder of Twitter, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July, 2015.
Jack Dorsey, interim CEO and co-founder of Twitter, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July, 2015. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Twitter's stock rose on Monday, buoyed by a tweet from interim Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey heralding his purchase of about $875,000 in shares of the social-media company, saying he's "investing in @twitter's future."

Noted beyond Wall Street, moreover, the investment stands as a general sign of confidence in the company, where growth isn't coming as fast as desired and Mr. Dorsey took over for Dick Costolo on July 1.

Mr Dorsey, however, didn't make nearly as much fuss over his past stock transactions -- all of them sales. Since the IPO, the co-founder has sold 378,132 shares worth $15.7 million. Another co-founder and board member, Ev Williams, has never purchased stock; instead, he's sold about 8 million shares worth $344 million.

With the company struggling to boost user growth and find a permanent CEO, such insider support alone may not be enough to sustain the rally. Twitter shares have slumped 19% since Mr. Dorsey said on July 28 that the company's product changes weren't helping to draw more users in. Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto warned that it would take a long time before "sustained, meaningful" growth could occur.

Twitter's executives have often touted their belief in the stock during rough patches -- to mixed results. Last year, when restrictions lifted on insider sales after the IPO, some top holders publicly pledged not to sell. When the lockup expired, Twitter stock still slipped to a new low. Before reporting a disappointing first quarter this year, Twitter's insiders halted all their sales for a few weeks. The climb was temporary, and the stock plunged after the company's revenue and forecasts missed analysts' estimates.

By drawing attention to his purchase, Mr. Dorsey is inviting others to look at his and other insiders' history. Mr. Noto and director Peter Fenton both purchased $200,000 in shares last week, while director Peter Currie purchased $250,000 worth. Still, overall, Twitter's executives have sold much more than they have bought, even allowing for the fact that some insider sales are for tax purposes.

Dorsey currently owns 21.9 million shares of Twitter, while Williams still owns 46.6 million shares. Jim Prosser, a spokesman for Twitter, declined to comment.

Twitter gained 9.1% to $29.50 at Monday's close in New York. On Friday, the stock closed at its lowest level since its November 2013 initial public offering.

While Twitter has declined 18% this year, analysts on average predict that within a year, the shares could reach $40.74 -- still lower than the $44.90 price Twitter touched on its first day of trading.

At the time of its IPO, the company was heralded as a high-growth stock with the potential to be the next Facebook. Instead, the San Francisco-based company has failed to grow as fast as expected. Twitter has endured months of pressure over its user numbers, tweaking its features and shuffling its product and engineering leadership, without much progress.

~ Bloomberg News ~

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