The marijuana industry is seeing green, and so are marijuana stock investors, for that matter. Over the trailing-one-year period, more marijuana stocks than not (with a market cap of $200 million, or higher) have at least doubled in value, and some are up well over 300%.
The catalysts behind this astonishing run in pot stocks are public opinion and legal sales growth.
According to a Gallup poll from 2016 and a more recent CBS News poll from this past April, a respective 60% and 61% of respondents want to see recreational cannabis legalized nationally. For added context, in Gallup's 1995 poll, just 25% wanted to see adult-use weed legalized across the country, while national support for cannabis was 20 percentage points lower in the CBS News poll a decade prior. The public's opinion has changed rapidly, which is a major reason we've gone from zero legal recreational weed states in early 2012 to eight as of today.
Legal recreational and medicinal sales of marijuana are soaring as a result of this change in perception. Between a softening public stance and select state governments eager to exploit a new channel of tax and licensing revenue, North American legal pot sales jumped 34% in 2016 to $6.9 billion, according to ArcView. A separate report from Marijuana Business Daily, Marijuana Business Factbook 2017, suggests growth in 2018 for the legal industry could come in at a staggering 45%!
These are the reasons why investors are so excited about the "green rush."
These two marijuana stocks soared last week
However, this excitement surrounding pot, and what could arguably be the fastest growing industry in America, has also created some very volatile and emotional trading. Last week, two marijuana stocks skyrocketed by a double-digit percentage. Let's take a closer look at the possible "why" behind these moves.
AXIM Biotechnologies -- up 41%
How the tables have turned! After putting up the worst performance (a loss of 23%) in the prior week among marijuana stocks, AXIM Biotechnologies (AXIM -4.00%) romped higher this week by a whopping 41%. This is also great news for Medical Marijuana, Inc. (MJNA -7.84%), since it owns 43% of AXIM's outstanding shares, or 22.67 million shares. Last week's gain in AXIM's stock translates into a $76.6 million unrealized increase in its holdings.
What's the reason for the move higher, you wonder? SeeThruEquity initiated coverage on the company this past Tuesday, May 16, with a $17 price target per share. This represents slightly more than a doubling of its closing price the prior week of $8.20 per share.
SeeThruEquity listed a number of potential catalysts in its report. These included the expansive marijuana market, which is growing faster than most industries, and "several key milestones" for AXIM in the near-term. SeeThruEquity talked up AXIM's CanChew, a cannabinoid-based chewing gum that provides a controlled release delivery between the cheek and gum, as well as its remaining clinical pipeline. In particular, SeeThruEquity focused on the opportunity for MedChewRx in pain and spasticity related to multiple sclerosis, as well as AXIM's potential work in reformulating the delivery of marinol, which is normally administered in capsule form and has been known to cause adverse side effects on the liver.
However -- and I really want to emphasize this point -- the disclosure section of the report also points out that, "The company featured in this report paid SeeThruEquity its standard fee described below for distributing a press release on this report. Such compensation is received on the basis of a fixed fee and made without regard to the opinions and conclusions in its research reports." In other words, AXIM can't control what SeeThruEquity says about its stock, but it essentially paid the company to promote its findings. While this is perfectly legal to do as long as the promotional relationship is disclosed, which SeeThruEquity has clearly done in its disclosure, it's nonetheless something seasoned investors would strongly frown upon.
Generally speaking, analyst opinions are exceptionally short-term share price drivers to begin with, meaning there's little need to buy or sell stock based on their ratings and price targets. Given that this was essentially a paid report, I'd suggest placing even less credence in it.
Looking forward, AXIM has major cash concerns considering that it has no notable recurring revenue, and it ended the previous year with only $0.7 million in cash on hand. Though its pipeline contains more than a dozen clinical trials, it simply doesn't appear to have the funding to enroll and conduct these studies at the moment.
This Fool would strongly suggest investors keep their distance from AXIM Biotechnologies for the time being.
Arena Pharmaceuticals -- up 11%
Sticking with the theme of analyst-induced moves, Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA) saw its share price soar 11% this past week after analyst Joseph Schwartz at investment firm Leerink Partners initiated coverage on Arena with an "outperform" rating and $5 price target. Mind you, Arena ended the previous week at $1.20 per share, implying that Leerink believes its valuation could quadruple, although no timeframe was given for such a move.
In particular, Schwartz pointed out the potential for midstage data to yield plenty of outside interest, assuming these proof-of-concept studies find the mark. For instance, Arena's ralinepag, a pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) drug, is set to report top-line data from a phase 2 study very soon. If it hits its primary endpoint, it could command quite the premium considering that Johnson & Johnson paid about six times peak sales for Actelion's PAH portfolio earlier this year.
Schwartz also pointed to the company's renegotiated terms with Eisai following the sale of weight-loss pill Belviq to the company. Belviq never came close to living up to the hype, so being able to jettison its problem onto another company so it can focus on potentially more important drugs is a good thing in Schwartz's eyes.
Once again, it's not worth placing too much emphasis in a singular Wall Street opinion until we have the concrete data from Arena's studies in our hands. Stock moves based on ratings from Wall Street tend to be fleeting.
Similarly, marijuana stock investors are going to want more clinical info on CB2 agonist for Crohn's disease pain, APD371, which is still in the early stages of clinical development. Considering how prevalent the opioid epidemic is in America, APD371 has the potential to replace opioids as a prescribed treatment for Crohn's-associated pain.
There's rightly a lot of buzz surrounding Arena Pharmaceuticals at the moment, but investors would still be wise to wait safely on the sidelines until we have more mature clinical data to work with.