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Twitter stock is at a three-year high. What is going on?

Unlike years past, people aren’t just buying Twitter because they think the company will be acquired.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey
Francois Durand / Getty Images for Twitter

Here’s something that few would have predicted last summer: Twitter stock, which has been a relative train wreck for most of the past few years, is suddenly at a three-year high. Yesterday, it closed at $43.49, up 155 percent from a year ago.

Why? On the surface, this doesn’t make much sense.

Twitter’s user count last quarter — 336 million — was just 3 percent more than it had a year ago. CEO Jack Dorsey still has two jobs. And while first-quarter revenue was up 21 percent year over year, it was up just 12 percent from two years ago. (For comparison, Facebook’s revenue is up 122 percent in the same two-year stretch.)

But there are reasons Twitter’s stock is doing well. And unlike years past, they aren’t just tied to the belief that Twitter will simply be acquired by Google or Facebook.

Twitter is profitable

This one’s easy: Twitter is finally making money. Not a lot of money, but some money, nonetheless. The company turned its first-ever profit in the fourth quarter of last year and was also profitable in Q1, bringing in $61 million. Twitter’s path to profitability was centered around cutting costs, but managing money appropriately is important, and Twitter is doing a better job of that now than it ever has.

Twitter’s growth is fine — if you look at the right audience

Twitter’s broad, monthly user base isn’t really growing, but the population of people who use it every day is growing. Twitter daily active user growth was more than 10 percent for the fifth straight quarter in Q1, which means more people are coming back to the service more frequently. That matters, even though Twitter doesn’t actually reveal how many daily active users it has.

Twitter’s product is getting better

The fact that people are coming back more often is also a sign that Twitter’s product is simply getting better.

Twitter isn’t taking the Facebook approach, which seems to be expanding into every industry imaginable. Instead, it’s focused on improving the kind of stuff Twitter should have done right all along, like showing you tweets from people you actually find interesting, or curated tweets from live events, or cleaning up its abuse problem.

“Execution is improving,” said analyst Rob Sanderson from MKM Partners, who bumped Twitter up to a “buy” rating in April. “They were [previously] stretching their arms pretty wide and not really intensely focused on that core. And since they’ve streamlined, I think that helps.”

It’s hardly perfect — cryptocurrency spammers are one of Twitter’s many underbellies today — but seems to be improving.

People still believe Twitter has potential

Some believe it can still be huge, though the belief that it could become the next Facebook is long gone. Twitter is truly the go-to place for live events and breaking news. And despite all of its troubles these past few years, nothing has been able to surpass it in that department. Facebook, for example, has struggled to get into breaking news and just closed its Trending topics section.

“People used to say it’s just Trump using [Twitter],” said BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield, who referenced tweets from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is way beyond Trump. This is becoming the platform of choice for information dissemination and engagement.”

Twitter isn’t just rising on takeover speculation anymore

Twitter has been a popular takeover target for years, but many believe Dorsey has little interest in selling. And a failed sale attempt in late 2016 proved Twitter was already too expensive for anyone to stomach. That part certainly hasn’t changed. Twitter’s projected price tag two years ago was probably half of what it would be today; its recent stock surge put Twitter’s market cap at $32.5 billion.

“I think very little of that [takeover speculation] is in the stock,” Sanderson said. “I think a lot of that has subsided and doesn’t seem to be much of the narrative today.”

Greenfield said earlier this year that he thought Twitter could get acquired. Now he’s less sure. “Just think of how many companies are tied up in large acquisitions,” he said. “But I do believe this is an incredibly strategic asset for a wide array of companies.”

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