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Weight Watchers Loses Money, Members -- 2nd Update

02/26/2015 | 08:01pm US/Eastern
By Maria Armental 

Weight Watchers International Inc. is stepping up its fitness and technology focus, building on personal coaching and 24/7 expert chat to foster the kind of relationships online its members had developed over face-to-face encounters.

The weight-loss company, which has been shedding members and losing ground to apps and other gadgets that track calories, said it was laying off the president of its North American business, Lesya Lysyj, amid a cost-cutting move aimed to save $100 million.

Ms. Lysyj joined the company in 2013 from Heineken USA. At that time, Chief Executive Jim Chambers touted her "tremendous experience in building and turning around well-known consumer brands."

Weight Watchers didn't specify how many workers would lose their jobs but said its restructuring costs, which include layoff charges, are expected to total $10 million for the year.

Overall, Weight Watchers expects a profit of 40 cents to 70 cents a share for the year, compared with the consensus estimate of $1.43 a share, according to analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Mr. Chambers said during a conference call Thursday that the company's turnaround strategy was handicapped by a challenging start to 2015, and expects membership to resume growth some time in 2015 and revenue to return to growth in 2016.

Shares fell nearly 15% to $14.99 in after-hours trading Thursday, below the 52-week-low of $16.40 set on Feb. 2 in regular trading, as the company reported it swung to a loss in the holiday quarter.

The New York company, which started in the early 1960s as a group of friends met in Queens, N.Y., to discuss how to lose weight, has struggled to recruit and retain paying members.

The number of active subscribers fell 15% in the fourth quarter from the year-ago period, with online subscribers dropping 16.7% and meeting subscribers 13.3%.

To halt the decline, Weight Watchers stopped paying a dividend in 2013 and said it would use the money to restructure operations and pay down debt.

The company has added more personalized weight-loss programs and is teaming up with companies and health-insurance providers to subsidize memberships. As part of its broader marketing push, this year it advertised for the first time during the Super Bowl.

Still, Weight Watchers reported a fourth-quarter loss of $16.1 million, or 28 cents a share, swinging from a year-earlier profit of $30.8 million, or 54 cents a share. Excluding restructuring charges of $26.1 million for franchise rights related to its Canada operations, profit fell to seven cents a share from 56 cents a year earlier.

Revenue fell more than 10% to $327.8 million. The quarter results were in line with analysts' projections.

Through Thursday's closing, the company's stock had fallen nearly 19% over the past 12 months.

Write to Maria Armental at maria.armental@wsj.com

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