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Analysts Mull Weight Watchers' Eroding Subscriber Base

John Seward

Weight Watchers (NYSE: WTW) shares wallowed Thursday on weak second-quarter results while analysts raised worries about an eroding subscriber base.

Weight Watcher's shares have lost more than 34 percent year to date as the company struggles with competition from free weight-loss apps.

In October, it suspended its dividend in hopes of saving $39 million annually for restructuring and debt reduction.

"I see now that the situation, as a business and an organization, is more difficult than originally appeared," its then newly-appointed CEO James Chambers told investors at the time.

It doesn't appear to have improved much.

Morgan Stanley's Dara Mohsenian said Thursday the same concerns weigh on the shares. Those include weak recruitment trends, increased competition from free mobile apps and the slowing growth rate of its online business.

Chambers told investors Wednesday that a weak subscriber base will cut 2015 earnings by $0.60 per share.

"They're optimistic that increased marketing will improve trends," Mohsenian said in a note maintaining an Equal-Weight rating. "But essentially, they're starting 2015 with a $0.60 hole."

The company hopes to sharpen the personalization of its programs, streamline procedures for signing up new customers and seeking subsidies from health insurance companies.

A study released by Duke University researchers last week found weight loss through the company cost customers an average of about $78 per pound for Weight Watchers -- less than half the cost of privately held competitor Jenny Craig.

Despite some sell off mid-day Thursday, Weight Watchers is up three percent from Wednesday's close.

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