In many respects, Weight Watchers (NYSE:WTW) and Herbalife (NYSE:HLF) could be said to be two peas in a pod. But with one planting the seeds to sprout future share growth on the price chart and the other looking ready for harvest, it’s time for a well-timed pairs trade to capture a shrinking spread in WTW stock and shares of HLF.
Source: Mike Mozart via Flickr
WTW stock and Herbalife have a lot in common. Both are positioned to cash in on the global obsession with slimming down through a combination of products, programs and better food choices aimed at achieving a healthier you. But it can still be a tough sell.
While both Weight Watchers and HLF have proven successful ventures over the years, maintaining consistent success at the customer level is more challenging for a myriad of reasons. From retaining the customers they’re supposed to liberate, old habits dying hard in today’s fast food, on-the-go way of life and relentless competition always hawking the newest genie in the bottle, there’s going to be cyclical ups and downs for both names within this secular growth industry.
Bearing that in mind, it now appears to be an opportune time to buy into an out-of-favor and slimmed down WTW stock and pair up the entry with a short in shares of Herbalife in order to capture a shrinking price spread.
Diet Stock Pairs Trade Long: WTW Stock
WTW stock may as well have been called ‘SlimFast’ over the past several months. After enjoying a massive run of nearly 800% from 2017 into 2018’s first half, Weight Watchers has quickly shed those gains with shares off more than 80% since last June.
There are a ton of excuses for the dive in share price. Most recently, there was a below-the-market price target reduction from JPMorgan, which ironically enough kept its rating on Weight Watchers stock at underweight.
But a larger reason for the massive shred in WTW has been the fact that fewer customers have been staying onboard and signing up for Weight Watchers. Growth has been slipping for three consecutive quarters, while subscribers peaked at 4.6 million in Q1 of 2018. Entering 2019, that number now stands at 3.9 million.
The good news is as bad as it sounds and looks today, it’s not likely to be permanent.
The better news? Who knows? Maybe Monday’s relative price relief prompted by Morgan Stanley, which noted it sees subscriber growth making a comeback, is a sign a new and more positive cycle is beginning?
With WTW stock having been through an extreme weight loss program in its own right and Wall Street still mostly pooh-poohing shares, it’s time to buy Weight Watchers as one-half of a pairs trade when few others are willing to gobble it up.
Diet Stock Pairs Trade Short: HLF Stock
Most investors that follow the market are aware of Bill Ackman’s infamous Herbalife capitulation in early 2018. It turns out he saved his investors some money during the interim. But he may soon be kicking himself for the exit — though maybe not for the same reasons behind the short position.
By late February of this year, Herbalife has seemingly put much of its troubles behind it and its earnings confessional supports a company that continues to grow. But Herbalife may have set itself up as a short prone to crumbling under its own weight by merely meeting Street forecasts for its fourth quarter and issuing below-view guidance for 2019.
After HLF stock’s massive rally, a larger downdraft in HLF stock makes sense, especially in a market known for its ability to wear out and fool the crowd.
Technically, my bearish thesis does appear to be in the beginning stages of playing out after shares hit all-time-highs back in early February. Following an uneventful earnings reaction highlighted in the weekly chart, HLF stock has broken below trendline support formed during a sloping triple top pattern.
Now shares of Herbalife are signaling a continuation to the downside after a narrow break of a tight consolidation pattern formed the past couple weeks. And as the other half of a pairs trade looking to trim some fat from HLF stock and shrink the spread with WTW stock, Herbalife looks like a great short.
Disclosure: Investment accounts under Christopher Tyler’s management do not currently own positions in any securities mentioned in this article. The information offered is based upon Christopher Tyler’s observations and strictly intended for educational purposes only; the use of which is the responsibility of the individual. For additional options-based strategies, related musings or to ask a question, you can find and follow Chris on Twitter @Options_CAT and StockTwits.
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