Who's next? That's the question many investors have after the announcement on Wednesday that large alcoholic beverage maker Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) bought an additional $4 billion stake in its partner, Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC). The deal rocked the cannabis industry because of its size -- the largest ever -- and the implications that it has. If Constellation thinks so highly of the prospects for the cannabis market, it stands to reason that other beverage companies could have similar perspectives.
The stock market itself could provide a big clue as to which Canadian marijuana growers are most likely to follow in Canopy's footsteps. Investors bid up the share prices of three stocks in particular: Tilray (NASDAQ:TLRY), Aurora Cannabis (NYSE:ACB), and Aphria (NASDAQOTH:APHQF).
Canopy Growth isn't interested in acquiring any of its peers, so it seems that the market views these three companies as potential candidates for deals with other big companies outside of the cannabis industry. There are several good reasons why these companies enjoyed big gains along with Canopy.
Tilray's share price soared 20% on Wednesday, well behind Canopy Growth's gain of 30%, but still impressive. I think there are several reasons why investors could view Tilray as a prime candidate for a partnership similar to the one that Canopy and Constellation have.
Like Canopy, Tilray is in great shape to profit in the recreational market in Canada. The company already has supply agreements lined up with five provinces and territories. Tilray saw early on the potential in international markets and currently ships medical cannabis to nine countries, the most important of which is Germany.
My hunch is that Tilray's initial public offering (IPO) on the Nasdaq stock exchange also plays a key role in investors' thinking. Aside from Tilray, only Canopy and one other Canadian marijuana grower are listed on U.S. stock exchanges.
Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Tilray CEO Brendan Kennedy stated that "the top 10 investors in our IPO would surprise people," and includes several top institutional investors. That kind of support could be key for potential suitors.
2. Aurora Cannabis
Aurora Cannabis stock jumped 19% on Wednesday, making it a close runner-up to Tilray. Unlike Canopy Growth and Tilray, though, Aurora isn't listed on a U.S. stock exchange right now. The company has been too busy gobbling up other marijuana growers.
Thanks to its multiple acquisitions, most notably including the recent deal to buy MedReleaf, Aurora Cannabis rivals Canopy Growth in production capacity. The company also is a leader in global cannabis markets, with its Pedanios subsidiary giving it a competitive advantage in Europe, especially Germany.
It seems clear to me that Aurora considers that it and Canopy Growth are in a league of their own. Aurora Cannabis Chief Corporate Officer Cam Battley said in June that his company and Canopy are in a good position to compete globally, but that "the challenge for other companies to catch up is significant."
I'm not sure if the majority of investors totally agree with that viewpoint, but Aurora is definitely one of the top contenders in the global cannabis market. It wouldn't be surprising if the company attracts the attention of one of Constellation's peers.
Aphria stock moved 18% higher on Wednesday. The company's third-place finish (after Canopy Growth) mirrored its ranking among Canadian marijuana growers by market cap.
Like Aurora, Aphria reportedly was one of a handful of Canadian marijuana producers that Molson Coors Brewing considered as partners. Molson Coors ultimately chose The Hydropothecary, but Aphria's inclusion on this short list probably means that it would also be a top candidate for other big beverage companies.
There are two key reasons why Aphria could be a good partner for a larger company. Aphria is on track to have an annual production capacity of 255,000 kilograms in 2019. It also claims a solid international foothold, thanks to its acquisition of Nuuvera.
Will more deals come?
The market appears to be assuming that more deals could be on the way. But is that a realistic assumption? Probably so.
Constellation Brands' CEO Rob Sands spoke during Canopy Growth's earnings call Wednesday morning. Sands said that he thinks that cannabis is "potentially the most significant global growth opportunity for the next decade." I doubt that Constellation is the only beverage maker with that view.
Canopy CEO Bruce Linton proclaimed in the call that the cannabis opportunity "is going to get big," adding that "we [the partnership between Constellation and Canopy] will be way ahead." If other beverage makers don't make their own moves into cannabis, Linton could very well be proven right. I suspect, though, that there will be more deals on the way, which means there's a reasonable chance that Tilray, Aurora Cannabis, and/or Aphria could follow in Canopy's footsteps.