Twitter reveals rip-roaring growth, big losses ahead of IPO

Twitter reveals rip-roaring growth, big losses ahead of IPO
A tweet from Twitter Inc. announcing its IPO filing is shown in this photo illustration in Toronto, October 3, 2013. Twitter Inc will seek to raise $1 billion in the largest Silicon Valley IPO since Facebook Inc's 2012 coming-out party, according to an IPO filing made public on Thursday.

SAN FRANCISCO - Twitter Inc, racing toward the largest Silicon Valley IPO since Facebook Inc's 2012 coming-out party, hopes to woo investors with rip-roaring revenue growth despite having posted big losses over the past three years.

The eight-year-old online messaging service gave potential investors their first glance at its financials on Thursday when it publicly filed its IPO documents, setting the stage for one of the most-anticipated debuts in over a year.

Twitter's debut will be the culmination of its journey from a side-project to a sociocultural phenomenon, one that has become a communications channel for everyone from the Pope to President Barack Obama. Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used Twitter to disclose a "historic" phone conversation with the US President.

The service's emphasis on real-time communication - whether it be about breaking news or chatting with friends about a TV show on air - sets it apart from rivals such as Facebook.

Now, though, the company must prove to Wall Street it can continue to make money, even as growth slows after a period of explosive expansion around the world.

In Thursday's filing, the first public disclosure of financial figures, Twitter reported that revenue almost tripled to US$316.9 million (S$395.23 million) in 2012. In the first half of 2013, it posted revenue of US$253.6 million but had a loss of US$69.3 million.

The numbers were mostly in line with the estimates of outside analysts. The company began selling advertising in earnest only in 2010, devising a means for ads to appear in the message streams of users that has proven effective for both desktop computers and mobile devices.

The losses are "a non-issue," said Brian Wieser, analyst at Pivotal Research Group. "It would have been a surprise if they had a profit."

In the laundry list of risk factors that's typically appended to all company IPO filings, Twitter warned it was heavily reliant on advertising revenue. It said more than 87 per cent of its revenue came from advertising in the first half of 2013.

The prices Twitter can command for ads has actually fallen over the past five quarters. But the company said that decline was the result of a conscious effort to rapidly expand its available inventory and change its algorithms to distribute ads more frequently throughout each day.

Revenue has risen because the strategy attracted more advertisers, especially small- and medium-sized businesses and international clients, it said.

Still, the company acknowledged the uncertainty of the volatile and highly competitive online advertising market.

"Advertisers will not continue to do business with us, or they will reduce the prices they are willing to pay to advertise with us, if we do not deliver ads in an effective manner, or if they do not believe that their investment in advertising with us will generate a competitive return relative to alternatives, including online, mobile."

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