If you had looked at the stock performance for MedReleaf (NASDAQOTH:MEDFF) and Cronos Group (NASDAQ:CRON) just a few weeks ago, you might have concluded that there wasn't much difference between the two marijuana stocks. Both MedReleaf and Cronos stocks were down nearly 30% year to date in April. It's a much different story now, though -- at least for MedReleaf. The Canadian marijuana grower's share price has taken off and is now up more than 10% year to date.
There are differences between these two marijuana stocks, though. And those differences can help investors pick which is the better stock to buy. Here's what you need to know about MedReleaf and Cronos Group.
The case for MedReleaf
MedReleaf ranks as one of the four largest marijuana growers in Canada, with a market cap of around $1.8 billion. The company claims a 17% share of the dried medical cannabis market in Canada.
Although cannabis is a commodity, MedReleaf has worked to differentiate its products on quality. It's the only Canadian marijuana supplier to achieve ISO-9001 certification, an international standard for quality management, and the International Council for Harmonisation certification for Good Manufacturing Practices (ICH-GMP) for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients.
While MedReleaf's primary focus thus far has been on providing medical marijuana for the Canadian market, the company has also looked to grow internationally. In March, MedReleaf signed an agreement to become the largest supplier of medical marijuana to Cannamedical Pharma GMBH, which distributes medical marijuana to 1,800 pharmacies in Germany.
MedReleaf is also positioning itself for the anticipated recreational marijuana market in Canada. The country could legalize the adult use of marijuana for recreational purposes this year. Like its peers, MedReleaf is rapidly expanding its production capacity. The company is on track to be able to produce 35,000 kilograms of cannabis per year by later this summer and 140,000 kilograms per year when its Exeter facility is completed.
The big wild card for investors who buy MedReleaf stock is the possibility that the company could be acquired. MedReleaf confirmed earlier in May that it is in discussions with Aurora Cannabis (NASDAQOTH:ACBFF), the second-largest Canadian marijuana grower, "regarding various alternatives." No deal has been finalized at this point, however.
The case for Cronos Group
Cronos Group claims a market cap of around $1 billion, ranking it as fifth-largest Canadian marijuana grower. In February, the company became the first Canadian marijuana grower to list its stock on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
Sales are booming for Cronos. In its fiscal year 2017 Q4 results announced on April 30, 2018, the company reported sales of 1.6 million in Canadian dollars -- a whopping 274% year-over-year increase. Cronos is scheduled to provide an update on its fiscal year 2018 Q1 results on May 15, 2018.
Like MedReleaf, Cronos is also looking beyond Canada. Last year, the company signed a five-year medical marijuana distribution deal with G. Pohl-Boskamp GmbH & Co., a European pharmaceutical manufacturer and distributor. Pohl-Boskamp is selling Cronos Group's Peace Naturals branded cannabis products throughout its network of pharmacies in Germany.
Cronos also launched a joint venture with Israeli agricultural collective settlement Kibbutz Gan Shmuel to grow and distribute medical marijuana. Production costs for this joint venture are lower than they are in Canada due to the growing climate in Israel.
Of course, Cronos is eyeing the tremendous recreational marijuana opportunity that could be coming in Canada, too. The company completed improvements to three of its greenhouses and isn't far off from finishing construction of a new indoor facility. These efforts should enable Cronos to produce over 40,000 kilograms per year of cannabis later in 2018.
Cronos formed a joint venture in March with MedMen, a well-known U.S. marijuana brand. This joint venture plans to launch retail stores in Canada to sell recreational marijuana products when such sales are allowed under Canadian law.
In my view, the best way to choose between these two marijuana stocks is to look at bang for the buck -- how much production capacity each company provides for the cost of buying the stock. Using this approach, MedReleaf is clearly the better buy.
If Aurora Cannabis does buy MedReleaf, it should be great news for investors. MedReleaf also appears to be set to enjoy nice growth from the continued expansion of medical marijuana markets both at home and internationally as well as the expected legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada.
However, there are still risks for buying MedReleaf. If the potential Aurora Cannabis deal doesn't go through, MedReleaf stock could sink. Any delays in the legalization of recreational marijuana would weigh on the stock. Supply could outstrip demand in the future, which would hurt all marijuana growers. I think MedReleaf stock will move higher over the next couple of years, but don't ignore the possibility that it won't.