Canadian marijuana stocks have been on a tear in recent weeks. But while Aphria Inc. (NASDAQOTH: APHQF) and Aurora Cannabis Inc. (ACB -9.01%) have soared over the past month, both stocks still are lower than their levels at the beginning of 2018.
Aphria stock has performed better than Aurora so far this year and over the last few weeks. But is Aphria the better pick now, or is Aurora primed to surge past its rival?
There are three primary things to evaluate when comparing Canadian marijuana stocks. The first is how well each company is positioned for the recreational cannabis market scheduled to open in Canada next month. The second is how well each company is positioned in the global medical cannabis market. And the third is how the stocks' valuations compare. Here's what you need to know about how Aphria and Aurora Cannabis stack up against each other in these three key areas.
Canadian recreational cannabis market
The two major keys to success in the Canadian recreational cannabis market will be production capacity and distribution channels. Aphria only can grow 35,000 kilograms per year right now. However, the company should have an annual production capacity of 255,000 kilograms next year.
Aurora Cannabis expects to be able to produce 140,000 kilograms by the end of 2018. By the end of next year, though, the company's annual production capacity will increase to more than 570,000 kilograms.
But what about distribution channels? Aphria teamed up with Great North Distributors, a subsidiary of North America's largest wine and spirits distributor, Southern Glazer's. Great North will be the exclusive distributor of Aphria's recreational cannabis products throughout Canada. Aphria also has signed supply agreements for the recreational cannabis market with eight Canadian provinces and territories.
Aurora Cannabis is partnering with large Canadian liquor-store chain Alcanna to open retail cannabis stores throughout the provinces and territories that have retail regulations finalized. As part of the deal, Aurora made a significant investment in Alcanna. Like Aphria, Aurora also has landed multiple supply agreements with Canadian provinces and territories.
One wild card with respect to the recreational cannabis market for both Aphria and Aurora Cannabis is the potential to partner with a major alcoholic beverage company to develop cannabis-infused beverages. Corona beer distributor Constellation Brands recently invested $4 billion in Canopy Growth. Diageo, known for products like Crown Royal whiskey and Guinness beer, is reportedly in discussions with several Canadian marijuana growers about a partnership. Aphria and Aurora could be among the top candidates to land a big partner.
Global medical cannabis market
Aphria's acquisition of Nuuvera earlier this year gave the company a foothold in several international medical cannabis markets. The most important of these markets is Germany, which legalized medical cannabis in 2017. Aphria CEO Vic Neufeld stated during the company's Q4 conference call last month that he feels "very, very confident" about Aphria's chances for success in the German market. So far, though, Aphria's international sales have been minimal.
Aurora Cannabis also appears to be well-positioned in Germany with its Pedanios subsidiary. The company reported European revenue of over 2.3 million Canadian dollars in its quarter ending March 31, 2018. Aurora's production facility in Denmark should give it an advantage as more European markets open up. In addition, the company is looking to grow sales in other international markets, including Australia and Brazil.
Aphria's market cap of around $3.2 billion is much smaller than Aurora's market cap of $5.9 billion. Based on each stock's price-to-sales ratio, Aphria is more attractively valued than Aurora is. However, both stocks appear to be absurdly expensive when looking at any commonly used valuation metric.
Another way of comparing these two stocks is the "bang for the buck" approach -- calculate how much you pay for each kilogram of production capacity. At Aphria's current market cap, investors would pay roughly $12,549 per kilogram of projected 2019 capacity. For Aurora, the figure is $10,439 per kilogram of projected 2019 capacity using the current market cap.
However, it's better to use enterprise value rather than market cap with this approach. Enterprise value factors in cash, short-term investments, and debt. Using enterprise values for each stock, you'd pay about the same amount per kilogram for Aphria as we saw in the previous figure. However, because Aurora's enterprise value of $3.76 billion is a lot lower than its market cap, you'd pay around $6,597 per kilogram of projected 2019 capacity for the stock.
Both Aphria and Aurora Cannabis should be big winners in the Canadian recreational cannabis market. I think Aurora's greater production capacity could give it an advantage, though. Aurora also appears to be in a better position for the global medical cannabis market. The company's Denmark facility and rapidly growing sales in Germany give it an edge.
There's a case for both stocks as to which has the more attractive valuation. The truth, of course, is that neither Aphria nor Aurora Cannabis is valued attractively. However, I think Aurora clearly wins using the "bang for the buck" approach.
Putting all of this together, my view is that Aurora Cannabis is the better stock right now, despite its underperformance so far this year compared to Aphria. However, the dynamics could change significantly if Diageo or another big company picks Aphria instead of Aurora. The better buy of today might not be the better buy of tomorrow in the ever-changing cannabis industry.