Salesforce Rules Out a Bid for Twitter


SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter may have to fix its problems on its own, at least for now.

Salesforce.com, the enterprise software maker that had been the most likely bidder for the embattled social media company, has declined to pursue a takeover.

“In this case we’ve walked away,” Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s chief executive, told The Financial Times in an interview published on Friday.

As Salesforce exits, virtually no other suitors seem likely to emerge. Rumors of potential other bidders — Google, Disney and Apple were among the names floated — quickly evaporated.

That leaves Twitter largely on its own, at least in the near term. And the move will please Salesforce investors, many of whom detested the idea of a pricey and distracting bid for the social network.

Shares of Twitter, which had stabilized on the hopes that Salesforce might still make a bid, dropped about 5 percent in afternoon trading on Friday, to $16.88.

And shares of Salesforce rose about 5 percent, to $74.27.

Mr. Benioff confirmed his remarks but declined to comment further. A spokeswoman for Twitter, Kristin Binns, declined to comment.

The interview all but confirms that Twitter will need to pursue a self-help plan rather than looking to a new owner that could shield it from the skepticism of stock market investors.

Despite its prominence as a forum for public discussion — especially during the presidential race — Twitter has still lost ground to competitors old and new. Some Twitter users have been leaving the service, and the company has found it difficult to persuade people to join. Its advertising revenue growth is also on a path toward slowing down.

Twitter has been emphasizing its mission around live events and real-time commentary, stressing initiatives based on live-streaming video, like its broadcasts of some N.F.L. games. Twitter executives and the board have tried to buy more time to show that they can refocus the company on those live events and increase its appeal.

During the weeks when rumors of a Twitter deal reached fever pitch, speculation swirled around potential divides within the company’s board. Among those who opposed a sale, at least at first, was Jack Dorsey, its co-founder and chief executive.

More recently, Mr. Dorsey had become increasingly open to selling the company. Without a deal, Mr. Dorsey and his team are more likely to face tough questions when earnings are reported on Oct. 27.

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Marc Benioff, chief executive of Salesforce, told The Financial Times that Twitter “wasn’t the right fit for us.”

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Kimberly White/Getty Images

Twitter executives have considered selling some units or laying off employees, as The New York Times reported last month. It could sell Vine, the mobile short-video service, or MoPub, a mobile advertising business. The investment banks Goldman Sachs and Allen & Company are advising it on its options.

“There is declining advertising interest in Twitter,” said Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “When you overlay that with the company’s current fundamentals, you’ll see very little top line revenue growth next year.”

At the same time, companies mooted as potential buyers had decided that Twitter at its current valuation — its market capitalization has surpassed $13 billion at certain points — was too expensive and required too much work to fix.

Salesforce’s investors are probably feeling some relief.

For much of its 17-year existence, Salesforce has relied on acquisitions to grow, augmenting its core customer-relationship management offerings. But 2016 has proved a particularly active time for deal-making at the company. Salesforce has bought 13 companies for more than $4.4 billion.

Shareholders were upset that in August, Mr. Benioff agreed to pay $582 million for a company called Quip, a maker of real-time collaboration software that had negligible revenue. But Mr. Benioff said he needed its founders to rebuild his corporate architecture for the next new things in corporate software.

A bid for Twitter — a consumer-oriented company with significant challenges — represented to many investors an act of overweening ambition. At a $12 billion market cap, Twitter would have been the largest deal yet for Salesforce, which is worth $50 billion.

It was Salesforce’s initial takeover approach that set off the flurry of speculation about a takeover, and as recently as early as this month, Mr. Benioff telegraphed his interest in buying what he called “an unpolished jewel.”

In an interview during his annual customer conference this month, he said he was attracted to Twitter as a way for companies to field customer complaints and promote themselves, and pursued the deal in part to learn more about the current tech market.

Some of that may have been bluster. Mr. Benioff has often treated his company a bit like a start-up, both in his generous stock grants to employees and his single-minded decision-making. Yet many large Salesforce shareholders, including the mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments, sent emails and other messages to Salesforce executives voicing their displeasure.

The prospect of a shareholder revolt could have proved disastrous for the company, which relies heavily on its stock for its deal-making and to pay its employees. A sustained drop in Salesforce’s stock price would harm both activities.

In a meeting with analysts last week, Mr. Benioff sounded unusually contrite and somewhat shocked that his impetuous style had riled his biggest shareholders. “We will think through everything, but we would never do a deal that would ever do the kind of things that I have been reading in the emails,” Mr. Benioff said at that meeting.

By Friday, Mr. Benioff conceded that Twitter was a deal he could afford to pass up.

“It’s not the right fit for us for many different reasons,” he said in the Financial Times interview.

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