Weight Watchers Shows Value on Back of Online Growth


Health shake and life-improvement companies haven't been the most appealing stocks in recent months. While some have a business structure that lends itself to criticism (you know who I'm talking about), there are options out there for investors looking to slim down without drinking portfolio poison. One of these companies is an old player on the scene, but has recently offered investors a potential value play. Here's what you need to know about calorie-counter extraordinaire, Weight Watchers .

The skinny
Essentially, Weight Watchers is a heavily branded consumer goods business. It's (unfortunately) similar to Herbalife in that it offers content-cautious food products to customers trying to get their waste line under control, but be assured that this business is anything but Herbalife's murky is-it-legal-I'm-not-sure multi-level marketing model.

The company was hurt during the financial crisis as calorie counting gave way to penny pinching in times of duress. As noted in a Boyar Intrinsic Value Research report, Weight Watchers management started buying back shares in 2007 in the mid-$50 range. Though the stock recovered on the back of a new, well-received program, it was again hit by a poorly thought out share buyback with average prices in the $80s . The stock today trades at a little more than $44 per share.

So why would you be interested in a company whose management can't seem to conduct a reasonable debt-financed buyback program (c'mon, everyone can do that)? Well, the fundamentals have simply outweighed that risk for the time being.

Why it's a good value stock
As many a value investor will orate, subscription-based companies that are asset light and free cash flow heavy are just the greatest businesses to own if offered at the right price.

Weight Watchers is steering toward an even lighter capital expenditure model, putting the brakes on the strip-mall Weight Watchers outpost and expanding its WeightWatchers.com presence. As mentioned in the Boyar report, WW.com has grown by an average 27% annually over the past five years. The web business is far, far superior, generating operating margins of more than 50%, while the brick-and-mortar counterpart sits under 20%.

WeightWatchers.com still represents just 27% of revenue, leaving plenty of room for growth.

The firm value of the company currently trades at 8.8 times one-year forward EBITDA and lower if you extend out a year or two. Though one could argue Weight Watchers is a consumer brand that could be compared to the likes of other big name consumables, let's stick with the specific industry. Take a look at Nutrisystem . Now, Nutrisystem is a much smaller company that can arguably grow faster (though I would argue this given WW.com), it trades at more than 11 times EV/EBITDA with operating margins that don't begin to approach that of Weight Watchers -- either brick and mortar or online. Nutrisystem does have a large presence in stores such as Wal-Mart, but its economics simply don't compare to Weight Watchers at this time.

Boyar has a price target of $65 for the stock -- a more than 40% increase from today's levels. This is a fair, conservative price target given the potential of the web service and the macro trends -- obesity in America, corporate well-being, etc. The company also has a big opportunity to woo more men to its service, a demographic that has historically represented just 10% of Weight Watchers members. Most importantly, its metrics appear cheap when compared to peers.

For a healthy stock that doesn't have activists climbing up the walls, take a look at Weight Watchers.

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The article Weight Watchers Shows Value on Back of Online Growth originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Michael Lewis has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has the following options: long Jan. 2014 $50 calls on Herbalife. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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