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WTW - Weight Watchers International


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Guest hellsten

Might be a good time to start looking at WTW, even if you're not overweight:

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-08-02/weight-watchers-falls-most-since-2011-after-reducing-forecast

 

Weight Watchers fell 19 percent to $37.99 at the close in New York, the biggest drop since the company went public in November 2001. The shares have retreated 27 percent this year, compared with a 20 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

 

Per-share profit this year will be $3.55 to $3.70, less than an earlier projection of $3.60 to $3.90, the New York-based company said yesterday in a statement. The average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was $3.70.

 

WTW was mentioned in the thread on cannibals:

http://www.cornerofberkshireandfairfax.ca/forum/general-discussion/cannibals/msg124378/?topicseen#msg124378

 

Weight Watchers International, Inc. WTW:

http://financials.morningstar.com/ratios/r.html?t=WTW&region=USA&culture=en-us

 

Share count has gone from 110 to 56 million in 10 years.

 

WTW seems like a very high-quality business based on historic net margin and ROA figures.

 

WTW was featured in today's newsletter from Tilson & Co:

http://valueinvestingletter.com/pdfs/Boyars-Intrinsic-Research-Report-Weight-Watchers.pdf

 

WTW's buybacks where very ill-timed and financed with debt ::)

 

WTW's p-factor in 2012 looks good (http://www.cornerofberkshireandfairfax.ca/forum/berkshire-hathaway/the-mysterious-factor-'p'/):

1083/1219=0.89

 

WTW is now Geoff Gannon's third stock:

http://gannonandhoangoninvesting.com/blog/2013/8/2/bought-weight-watchers-wtw

 

I guess it's clear that WTW is a high-quality business.

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I've looked into it in the past few months. Yesterday I read Geoff's article and sent him an email, here are the major questions I posed to him:

 

-How do you feel about Artal Group's controlling stake? They cashed out at

a high price and loaded the company with debt (although they did allow

minority shareholders to take part pari passu).

 

-How do you feel about the CEO's departure? There is a Forbes article (

http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2012/09/04/the-mystery-man-behind-weight-watchers-and-the-private-equity-deal-of-the-century/)

which adds some color to the picture but not enough details to truly grasp

the relationship between Artal/Debbane and WTW management (who I'm sure he

selects).

 

-In terms of industry trends, what are your thoughts? I think more

customers are migrating to their online platform versus meetings where the

company would cross-sell other products.

 

-In terms of valuation...when I looked at WTW about 2 months ago, my

purchase price was $2bln, at the time the company traded hands for $2.4bln.

 

Essentially those are my thoughts. Most importantly I believe is how heavy the transition from in-person meetings to online apps for customers is. This will provide proof of how wide WTW's moat really is.

 

I view the case of Artal as a majority shareholder as more of an oddity than anything. I give them credit for allowing shareholders to participate in the buyback, despite saddling the company with floating rate debt. 

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Before I clicked any of those links posted by the OP, I went to the SEC's site and downloaded the latest 8-K.

 

Right away, I am seeing a book value of ($1.56B). The net debt is $2.3B!

 

Even though they are cash flow positive, it will take them a heck of a long time (and good luck) to get out of the hole. What am I missing in this, admittedly quick, back of the envelope, analysis?

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Guest hellsten
In our view, the Company’s business model has strengthened in recent years due the explosive growth

experienced by the Company’s online business. Over the past 5 years, WW.com has increased revenues at a

27% CAGR and the business now represents a disproportionate amount of the Company’s overall profitability.

Notably, operating margins posted during 2012 in its online segment of 51% significantly outpaced the 17%

margins generated by WTW’s traditional meetings business

 

Weight Watchers is a significant free cash flow generator thanks to its subscription-based and asset

light business model that is characterized by extremely low capital intensity. Over the past three years the

Company has generated an average of $297 million in free cash flow (12.5% FCF yield).

http://boyarresearch.com/emails/pdfs/Boyars-Intrinsic-Research-Report-Weight-Watchers.pdf

 

 

At the beginning of August, we acquired shares in Weight Watchers International. At just over

$43/share and with 2012 EPS expectations between $4.00 and $4.20/share, WTW traded at

approximately 10x earnings and a 10% free cash flow yield. This was incredibly cheap for a

company that consistently generates EBITDA margins in the high 20s, return on invested capital

in the mid to high-30s, and has grown sales an average of 8% per year for the last five years

(which includes the 2007-2009 recession).

 

While we recognize the operational and capital allocation errors, we think the market’s reaction

was overdone. The company is an incredible business franchise (refer back to the financial

fundamentals in the first paragraph of this section) addressing a significant and growing need.

Nearly one-third of US adults and 15% of the world’s population are obese. 70% of the US

population is overweight or obese. While the US leads the pack, this is a consistent trend

across most wealthy, developed nations. Japan is the exception.

http://www.greyowlcapital.com/uploads/letters/GOLetterQ32012.pdf

 

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Guest hellsten

Great study on what professionals and consumers think about WTW:

She said local NHS commissioners likely will choose a single provider that performs

best, which may give Weight Watchers a monopoly in some areas.

Weight Watchers performed best because its

leaders showed greater professionalism. Weight Watchers had a higher percentage of clients in Obese Class 3 (morbidly

obese) than the other two providers. When allowed a choice, patients chose Slimming World first, Weight Watchers

second, and Rosemary Conley third.

Most NHS commissioners look at their neighboring PCTs, and conclude that if they’re using Weight

Watchers, it must be OK. We forget at our peril that these providers are commercial organizations, that they’re

there to make money.

I see the possibility of Weight Watchers becoming a sort of monopoly.

We have a big obesity problem, and we need a service that can handle

big numbers. We don’t have the money or the specialized knowledge to

run these programs. To use the commercial providers is very useful.

“Overall, commercial weight-management services work better than

the NHS’ and save the NHS money. The patients are dispersed and

NHS locations are too few and centralized.”

“Referral of patients to commercial slimming services works extremely well, better than NHS-provided services.

It’s more cost-effective. They have a good local infrastructure, and it’s much more convenient for the patients.

It’s much harderfor us to get people together in the same place at the same time.”

Outsourcing obesity treatments will inevitably grow because commercial weight-loss programs have considerable backing

and are much cheaper than drugs or surgery. The referral program could have 2 million UK patients in a few years. Only

Weight Watchers and Slimming World have the capacity to treat obesity on a massive scale. Weight Watchers has a

virtual monopoly because of short-term results in a pilot study and because of the scale of operations it offers the NHS.

“Weight Watchers is becoming a monopoly because of all the results

they’re getting through the NHS referral scheme. Slimming World is

claiming very similar results. But the other competitors are small and

don’t have the capacity.

“There are a thousand different ways to lose weight. The problem it keeping it off. I have lost 30 pounds on

Weight Watchers three different times. We have a huge number of repeat members, and they invariably stated

that the Weight Watchers program worked, that it was their personal failure that brought them back. A lot of

people just need that accountability.”

With Weight Watchers you eat real food, so you feel like a normal person.

Weight Watchers is a solid program that is recommended by physicians, which

should help it to sustain membership levels. The company’s advantages are

accessibility, affordability, flexibility and nutrition education. Celebrity

endorsements do not really have an influence

“Most people find out about Weight Watchers through advertising or their health professional. Doctors do

recommend this diet, but I don’t think people who were recommended by their doctors necessarily have a higher

rate of success.”

Weight Watchers gives you the information you need to successfully

lose weight. And you can do it with your own food. That’s a big

advantage. Other programs like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem require a

person to eat their packaged foods. But you can’t solve a permanent

problem with a temporary solution. Those other programs are a shortterm fix. What happens when you quit eating their food? When I meet

someone who is on one of the pre-packaged plans, I always think: I’ll

see you at Weight Watchers in a fewyears.”

“The program rates are very reasonable. My company offered additional discounts, so the cost was a complete

nonissue.”

“I would never consider one of the competitive programs like Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem. I don’t like the idea of

prepackaged foods, with all the preservatives and additives. My husband and I prefer natural and organic foods.

The Weight Watchers approach is healthier; it lets you eat your own food.”

Celebrity endorsements definitely increase membership. When Dr. Oz promoted an introductory Weight

Watchers offer, the meetings were packed. It really gets a lot of people in the door.”

“Weight Watchers has a great program. I have referred hundreds of patients to their program specifically, and I

know for a fact that other physicians do so as well.”

[Weight Watchers] promotes the program as a healthy lifestyle, not a diet.

Weight Watchers needs

to improve its maintenance program and is missing a big business opportunity. People who reach their goal have a

Lifetime Membership—as long as they keep the weight off.

This source believes Weight Watchers’ membership is growing based on the number of her own friends who recently

have joined the program. Weight Watchers has a very convenient online program, and the price is right. Some employers

and insurance companies even pay for the program.

For online, I pay about $15 a month. It is automatically taken off my

credit card each month. So if I want to stop, I’ll have to cancel that

credit payment. But given that I’m online all the time, it is a steal.”

Slimming World is Weight Watchers’ biggest competitor. Like Weight Watchers, it uses meetings. … But they

don’t have a points system.

The Lancet publication on Dr. Susan Jebb’s study of Weight Watchers had a big

effect in France. The source’s location received many calls from dietitians and doctors who had read the article. Weight

Watchers’ biggest competitor in France is weight-loss guru Pierre Dukan, but his program reportedly is more difficult and

not as balanced. Weight Watchers frequently takes on clients who started with Dukan’s diet.

Weight Watchers costs a lot less than a traditional dietitian or nutritionist, which costs €35 to €40 per session

versus €40 each month for the Weight Watchers subscription, including the meetings, online services and the

dietitian.

“I think Weight Watchers is a really healthy diet. A lot of people we see are prediabetic. Some have bad knees,

and they have been told by their doctors to lose weight. A lot of people are referred by doctors. Other people

need to drop 50 pounds before surgery.

This source left Weight Watchers because corporate was pressuring leaders to promote the Weight Watchers brand of

packaged products. He tried to resist the trend and continued to lead his group based on lifestyle support and tips to

maintain good eating habits. The one consistent complaint he heard from members was on the very topic of brand

promotion; other leaders reportedly turned meetings into “infomercials.”

Most new members started Weight Watchers based on a personal

recommendation from someone who had success with the system. The

celebrity endorsements certainly had an impact too.

There are a lot of competitors to Weight Watchers. Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem are two big ones. But they both

require purchase of prepackaged food. Some people prefer this very tightly controlled approach to dieting, but it

is not sustainable. Gyms, DVD programs and supplement programs are all competitors also.

NHS commissioners and the government are too focused on short-term results and budgets are too tight to make the fixed investment needed to scale up such an

intra-NHS designed program.

- “The government wants headline results: to cut waiting times for surgery and emergency room visits. They want

quick changes to get these headline results and don’t want to wait five years for them.”

since it’s a big initial investment to design a program from scratch, most PCTs prefer to [outsource] because they don’t have

the funds to treat obesity. I had to go there several times, design the book, train up the staff, show them how to

manage the data and to evaluate it. But they don’t get paid for treating obesity, just for things like reducing

patients’ blood pressure.

 

Weight Watchers doesn’t address long-term problems. You need to get

to the root of the [obesity] problem. For the most part, people regain

the weight.

Some patients say Weight Watchers works. Some say it’s too costly [after the 12 weeks paid by the NHS

vouchers end]. Some say they like the leaders.

The programs are “better than

nothing” but fail to address the lifestyle changes and nutritional understanding

people need to permanently lose weight. Approximately 90% of clients who tried

such programs initially lost weight but plateaued within 60 days.

Weight Watchers’ easy-to-follow program and support meetings may account for its success. However, the meetings are

taught by nonprofessionals, and the program does not treat the underlying cause of weight gain.

“Weight Watchers has been using a sound nutrition plan, and I hope that does stay the same. The company

updates their program along with the recommended guidelines, and that’s commendable.”

Medicare costs could be cut by $15 billion if commercial or community-based weight-loss programs were reimbursed for

overweight and obese patients.

 

http://blueshiftideas.com/reports/101109WeightWatchersWillSustainGrowthThankstoPublicityStudyResults.pdf

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My take: there seems to be many free, alternative online resources that are very effective. Nerdfitness is an example of a free support group with good information.

 

I agree. I'm having a hard time believing much of Weight Watchers' online component (and to some degree its brick-and-mortar component) can't get eaten away by competitors fairly easily in the coming years. In a world evolving as technologically quickly as the current one, I wouldn't be surprised if you can get a lot of the stuff (including the support and such) WTW provides for free and in a pretty convenient mobile package - soon, if not already.

 

So, I'm using pretty conservative growth projections on FCF and upping the discount rate I'd normally apply due to the massive amount of debt. Still coming up with a fair value of about $45. Looking at EV/EBIT, I'm coming up with a similar number.

 

If you believe WTW's growth is highly sustainable - in other words, you believe in the superiority of what they're offering versus what competitors may offer - I believe you can come up with a significantly higher fair value and that is maybe what Gannon is seeing.

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Guest hellsten

My take: there seems to be many free, alternative online resources that are very effective. Nerdfitness is an example of a free support group with good information.

 

I agree. I'm having a hard time believing much of Weight Watchers' online component (and to some degree its brick-and-mortar component) can't get eaten away by competitors fairly easily in the coming years. In a world evolving as technologically quickly as the current one, I wouldn't be surprised if you can get a lot of the stuff (including the support and such) WTW provides for free and in a pretty convenient mobile package - soon, if not already.

 

IMHO, I don't think this is likely to happen. WTW has a moat through not only human behavior, but also scale, marketing, brand, partners, media, the point-based system, and so on.

 

I think the question is more something like: can a company with a similar concept (eat what you want) take over WTW's global position in the weight loss industry.

 

WU seems to be in a similar position; an old company that people think will be replaced by cheaper and cheaper technology.

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this stock is lower than it was 10 years ago. shouldn't a company with a moat build shareholder value?

 

wellmont, one of the principles of value investing is that a company's stock price does not always reflect the company's actual underlying value.  You need to determine that for yourself.

 

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Guest wellmont

this stock is lower than it was 10 years ago. shouldn't a company with a moat build shareholder value?

 

wellmont, one of the principles of value investing is that a company's stock price does not always reflect the company's actual underlying value.  You need to determine that for yourself.

 

thanks for informing me of one of the principles of value investing. however, I believe a company with a "moat" should add value over ten years. wtw may well be a value at the current price. however, we can disagree whether it has a moat or not, which I believe is the most overused concept in value investing. businesses with true moats are rare indeed.

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this stock is lower than it was 10 years ago. shouldn't a company with a moat build shareholder value?

 

wellmont, one of the principles of value investing is that a company's stock price does not always reflect the company's actual underlying value.  You need to determine that for yourself.

 

thanks for informing me of one of the principles of value investing. however, I believe a company with a "moat" should add value over ten years. wtw may well be a value at the current price. however, we can disagree whether it has a moat or not, which I believe is the most overused concept in value investing. businesses with true moats are rare indeed.

 

wellmont, I myself never mentioned anything about a moat.  All I was stating is that just because the stock price hasn't gone anywhere over the last ten years doesn't mean that shareholder value hasn't been built.  For example, I believe Microsoft is significantly more valuable today than it was ten years ago.  But if you look at its stock price, it practically hasn't moved.  Microsoft's stock price implies that no shareholder value has been built.  I think this is very far from the case.

 

This being said, please don't interpret this as meaning I am arguing for WTW.  I have no opinion as of yet, besides the fact that it does look intriguing, because I haven't done any research on it yet.

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Couple of questions to pose:

 

-If you are in the market for a weight loss program, would you "go across the street" to sign up for WeightWatchers vs. a similar program (at, say a lower price?)

 

-Do they have untapped pricing power?

 

I'm not sure I know the answer to these questions.

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There is something about having someone who doesn't know you, weigh you each week and tell you how much you have lost or gained.  I know there are aps and have a friend who has lost about 40 pounds using them. BUT I have been paying the 40+ bucks a month and have lost almost 40 pounds.  My Doc recommended them and his wife is going.  They don't tell you anything you don't know and the meetings aren't original BUT it works if you follow it.

Consumers Reports consistently rates the WW program in the top for working. 

With the obesity epidemic I don't think they will lose business, but it might flatten out with all the aps and fad diets.

I think I will be looking at the stock.

jmho

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Guest wellmont

after 10 years wmt stock price turned up. this one did a u turn. I don't believe it has a moat. you're mileage may vary. it still might be good value today. but I save "moat" for companies that deserve it. cheers.

 

ps: in the long run the stock market is a "weighing machine"....

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Couple of questions to pose:

 

-If you are in the market for a weight loss program, would you "go across the street" to sign up for WeightWatchers vs. a similar program (at, say a lower price?)

 

-Do they have untapped pricing power?

 

I'm not sure I know the answer to these questions.

 

The research by Blue Shift gives us some clues, but there are not enough data points in that study to give us a definite answer.

 

Regarding moats, does Coca-Cola™ not have a moat because I've switched to buying generic Cola myself? I might go back to Pepsi or Coca-Cola if they have it on sale. Anyway, I'm sure Coca-Cola has a moat because the company has been around since 1886, and technology is not an issue. Was it clear 20-40 years ago that Coca-Cola had a moat? You could say technology is a risk to Coca-Cola too:

http://web.archive.org/web/20070404073345/http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/web/20060619-soda-diet-tab-diet-coke-diet-pepsi.shtml

 

The VIC article and comments give us a few more clues about WTW's moat. I don't know if they have a wide moat, but they have a moat ;)

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I agree that there are very few companies with wide moats. The moat in WTW's case may be narrow or moderate - or even non-existent (although I think there's at least a bit of a moat, but, nothing that can't be eaten away within 5-10 years under very reasonable possibilities).

 

For most of the non-wide-moat companies, if the margin of safety is high enough given business risk, earnings visibility, leverage, etc., I'm of course still interested. Ben Graham would've been, too.

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I guess here is my overall take (and I think this is as much for me to clarify my position as well!):

 

-WeightWatchers sells a program that is based simply on scientific fact (diet/caloric intake). Anyone can come along and design a competing program which is just as scientifically effective.

 

-So in order to compete with this, WW needs to differentiate itself. They do this in a few ways:

 

(1) the "points" system, which makes it easier for customers to follow the diet

(2) meetings, which increase effectiveness via both social reinforcement and regular accountability.

(3) access to recipes, user-generated content, restaurants, food calculators, etc. which all come with "points" attached to easily integrate into your diet

(4) they now offer an online only program, which for is slightly less expensive and offers everything but the in-person meetings.

 

Not only do these offerings differentiate WW from competitors, but they also increase the effectiveness of their program. And in a market which is constantly inundated by new diets fads and programs, there is value in a program which offers a higher probability of consistent success.

 

The other concept is scale. WW has international scale, which allows it to not only reach levels of operating efficiency by maximizing employees productivity in meetings, but reinforce its brand image via their well known TV commercials, etc.

 

Additionally, as mentioned earlier in this thread, they are a natural fit for companies/doctors/insurance co's to use in terms of both treatment and prevention of obesity. Their scale contributes to this as they can handle the request of large companies/patient referrals.

 

From the bear side, here's a (dated-2011) PDF of the short thesis: https://collab.itc.virginia.edu/access/content/group/dff17973-f012-465d-9e73-a05fa4456644/Research/Memos/MII%20Memos/Archive/Long/S-WTW.pdf

 

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Took some time to look into WTW.  I am always interested in companies with low capital requirements, high margins, and a powerful brand especially after a significant drop in price following earnings. 

 

Dislike:

- weak enrollment; expect significant declines in meetings and a decline in online in 2nd half of 2013.  Expect a starting base for 2014 at mid double digits lower than 2013 (already forecasting $64M off operating profit in 2014 on $300M in operating profit for 2013).

- levered; 4.2x net debt/EBITDAS; expect declines in EBITDA

- self tender offers at high prices - $54/share in 2007 and $82/share in 2012.  Buybacks have been minimal in comparison when the stock price has been significantly lower.  Artal Group has essentially pulled the strings with their 52% stake to take on debt and self tender their proportion of shares to keep the same ownership stake but cash out at high prices.  Wasted shareholder cash for their own benefit twice in 5 years.  Too much leverage has led to debt restructuring.

- fee apps, calorie counting; I assume this will be a fad similar to Atkins, low carb diets that they will get past in time, but the competition has clearly hurt participant numbers this year

- expect declines in high margin online business in 2nd half of 2013 after 27% CAGR in online revenues over the past 5 years

 

Like:

- low capital, high return model

- high brand recognition

- proven weight loss program (80 clinical trials) - good track record

- large opportunity with large corporations to subsidize employees to enroll in Weight Watchers - lower healthcare costs associated with obesity; revenue from businesses account for only 10% of revenues and generally are on the small business side

- large market with obesity on the rise worldwide - in UK and other European countries

- new CEO in James Chambers; seemed like the previous CEO pulled the strings on behalf of the Chairman

 

The next year and half look real messy going through the numbers so far in 2013 and based on expectations laid out by management.  I get 8.86x EV/EBIT based on 2012 EBIT and expect a significant decrease in EBIT for 2013 and 2014.  Clearly WTW needs to sort out a marketing strategy to combat the free apps while maintaining price discipline.  Could be a waiting game for a few years for the free app phase to blow over, a big move on the business side related to healthcare, better capital allocation (not in the near future considering the leverage and unlikely looking at the track record), or a stabilization in enrollment on the meeting and online businesses. 

 

No position.  Maybe it gets cheaper over the next year or so considering the current headwinds.

 

 

 

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Guest deepValue

this stock is lower than it was 10 years ago. shouldn't a company with a moat build shareholder value?

 

"Stock price is the same it was 10 years ago. Company has doubled in size. Each share has doubled in percentage of ownership. There are now 4 times more sales per share than 10 years ago"

 

http://gannonandhoangoninvesting.com/blog/2013/8/3/what-led-to-the-weight-watchers-wtw-purchase

 

The business is fine, capital allocation has not been great. I'd hesitate to buy even below $40 because of the capital allocation issues.

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I guess here is my overall take (and I think this is as much for me to clarify my position as well!):

 

-WeightWatchers sells a program that is based simply on scientific fact (diet/caloric intake). Anyone can come along and design a competing program which is just as scientifically effective.

-So in order to compete with this, WW needs to differentiate itself. They do this in a few ways:

 

(1) the "points" system, which makes it easier for customers to follow the diet

(2) meetings, which increase effectiveness via both social reinforcement and regular accountability.

(3) access to recipes, user-generated content, restaurants, food calculators, etc. which all come with "points" attached to easily integrate into your diet

(4) they now offer an online only program, which for is slightly less expensive and offers everything but the in-person meetings.

 

Not only do these offerings differentiate WW from competitors, but they also increase the effectiveness of their program. And in a market which is constantly inundated by new diets fads and programs, there is value in a program which offers a higher probability of consistent success.

 

The other concept is scale. WW has international scale, which allows it to not only reach levels of operating efficiency by maximizing employees productivity in meetings, but reinforce its brand image via their well known TV commercials, etc.

 

Additionally, as mentioned earlier in this thread, they are a natural fit for companies/doctors/insurance co's to use in terms of both treatment and prevention of obesity. Their scale contributes to this as they can handle the request of large companies/patient referrals.

 

From the bear side, here's a (dated-2011) PDF of the short thesis: https://collab.itc.virginia.edu/access/content/group/dff17973-f012-465d-9e73-a05fa4456644/Research/Memos/MII%20Memos/Archive/Long/S-WTW.pdf

 

 

I don't see how those differentiating points can't be replicated by competition and I don't see how deep pockets can't get the same scaling advantages fast. Can someone explain me in more depth what the exact deep moat is here? Shallow at best due to brand recognition imo?

 

You have a company with currently declining ebitda that has a net debt/ebitda ratio of 4.2. That's huge. They aren't simply going to grow out of that in a few years. What if the competition gets fierce because the moat isn't what it seemed?

 

The fact that the stock was priced the same 10 years ago only means that it was very overvalued, not by a factor of 2 but quite a bit more. Why go for this if you can indeed get the same kind of stock history in something like MSFT with a huge proven moat, huge net cash position, higher dividend, decent growth (stalwart wise..), etc?

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