I admit it: I’m addicted to TikTok – despite my age.
National security issues aside (assuming they exist) the video-sharing app is flat-out entertaining – which explains why user engagement is off the charts at between 45 minutes and an hour, according to Business of Apps, an app-centric data analysis firm. That’s an amount of time other social media platforms only dream about.
Now, we have Microsoft (MSFT) aiming to snap up control of TikTok amid an ongoing presidential feud with China and with TikTok itself, which teens used to embarrass President Trump at his Tulsa rally. The president, who was threatening to ban the app, has, instead, given Microsoft 45 days to seal a deal that would see TikTok switch from Chinese to US ownership. And that means Microsoft has an opportunity to upgrade its stodgy image and to inject a new, meaningful stream of income into its P&L.
But is that even necessary?
Over the last 12 months, Microsoft hauled in something north of $143 billion in revenue and net profits exceeding $44 billion, yielding profit margins of nearly 31%, among the very best you’ll find anywhere on the Street. TikTok, owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, last year reportedly generated about $3 billion in profits on $17 billion in sales, equating to net margins of more than 17%.
Certainly, Microsoft would wring out some cost savings, so TikTok’s margins would rise a bit. But in effect, TikTok would serve as a new revenue stream with margins that probably water down what Microsoft is already earning.
That said, there are some potentially interesting tie-ins here (assuming Microsoft moves in this direction) that could change the calculus of such a deal longer term: Linking TikTok with Minecraft and Xbox, which are both Microsoft properties. In effect, Microsoft could create a new form of competition for Twitch, Amazon’s (AMZN) hugely popular app that gamers use to live-stream – and earn income from – their video-game action.
Nor is it hard to envision a combined TikTok/Minecraft/Xbox marriage that adopts blockchain technology to allow TikTok users to support their favorite TikTok content creators (similar to, say, Patreon), or that allows those content creators to hawk merch or sell advertising space on their videos. Consider these TikTok user character traits. They’re perfect for a blockchain-based income model, such as I described:
Not saying this model is where Microsoft is headed. But it’s something to watch for, if Microsoft ultimately does land TikTok. The emergence of such a plan would likely focus investor attention on the tech giant as the age of blockchain and “decentralized finance” just now begins to root.
In the meantime, Microsoft isn’t such a bad stock to shove into the long-term holding side of a portfolio. Along with its impressive profitability, Microsoft sports equally impressive scalability (a measure of a company’s operational performance).
Granted, the shares aren’t especially cheap. Price-to-sale and price-to-book are both double digits, and its P/E north of 35 leans toward the pricier side (though, certainly, the tech bellwether has the financial chops to support an elevated P/E).
Still, even though the shares are up 27% so far this year – and nearly 50% over the past 12 months – Microsoft is but a middling player in the momentum game.
But that might not necessarily be such a bad trait at the moment. It just means investors haven’t bid up Microsoft shares to the moon and beyond, which means they’re probably not likely to fall as hard in the next Wall Street sell off … or if the TikTok tie-up ultimately unravels.