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Weight Watchers shares jump 15% as first-quarter earnings aren’t as bad as feared

Weight Watchers International Inc. food products.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Shares of Weight Watchers rose 15% after the markets closed Wednesday as the company posted first-quarter results that weren’t as bad as feared and boosted its forecast for the year.

Here’s what the company reported compared with what Wall Street was expecting, based on average analysts’ estimates compiled by Refinitiv:

  • Earnings per share: a loss of 16 cents vs. an expected loss of 26 cents
  • Revenue: $363.2 million vs. $365.9 million expected

Weight Watchers is trying to transform itself into a wellness brand instead of a diet company. It’s revamped its image and rebranded itself as WW last year. The new look fell flat with consumers as the trendy keto diet went mainstream, hurting the company’s recruiting efforts during the early part of the first quarter, the critical diet season.

The company in February warned it had a “soft” start to recruiting members at the beginning of the year, sending its stock tanking. In response, Weight Watchers said it would lean more on weight loss icon and board member Oprah Winfrey.

The company debuted a new television ad featuring Winfrey promoting the app at the end of April. Winfrey is also featured the spring campaign, where she surprises members with a video call to congratulate them on their weight loss.

“Who better to surprise someone than Oprah?” Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman said in an interview.

Weight Watchers realized it needed to more clearly explain the new brand after a slow start this year, Grossman said in an interview. The company conducted more research and decided on “WW: Weight Watchers reimagined” and “WW: The New Weight Watchers.” It touted the science behind its program, advertising more as a sustainable option.

Subscribers at the end of the period were up nearly 1% from the year-ago quarter. However, Weight Watchers attributed the increase to starting this quarter with more members than last year, helping offset “recruitment declines” in the quarter.

More than two-thirds of Weight Watchers’ 4.6 million members are digital-only subscribers. Membership for Weight Watchers’ legacy meetings business slid 10% from the year-ago quarter. Grossman told analysts on a post-earnings call the company is focused on improving the meeting experience to get people coming back.

Sales of Weight Watchers-branded products fell 29% in the quarter because fewer members attended meetings, where new members typically buy more measuring cups, food and other items, Chief Financial Officer Nick Hotchkin said on the call.

Weight Watchers swung to a loss of $10.7 million, or 16 cents per share, during the first quarter from a profit of $39.1 million, or 56 cents per share, a year earlier. Analysts expected the company to lose 26 cents per share, according to average estimates compiled by Refinitiv.

Net sales declined 8.5% to $363.2 million, falling short of the $365.9 million analysts had anticipated.

The company increased its full-year earnings forecast to between $1.35 and $1.55 per share from the previously guided range of $1.25 to $1.50. It reiterated its revenue expectation of about $1.4 billion.

Shares of Weight Watchers have slid nearly 48% this year.