Two huge deals have rocked the cannabis industry over the last four months. Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC) made headlines in August when major alcoholic-beverage maker Constellation Brands increased its stake in the company to 38% with a $4 billion investment. Last week, tobacco giant Altria announced that it was acquiring 45% of Cronos Group (NASDAQ:CRON) for $1.8 billion.
The big question on many investors' minds now is: Who's next? Here's why CannTrust (NASDAQOTH:CNTTF), Aurora Cannabis (NYSE:ACB), and Aphria (NYSE:APHA) could follow in the footsteps of Canopy Growth's and Cronos Group's huge deals.
1. CannTrust Holdings
CannTrust was another Canadian marijuana producer that Altria considered as a partner, according to Forbes contributor Sara Brittany Somerset. There are several reasons why other major companies outside of the cannabis industry could also have CannTrust on their short list of potential partners.
Unlike most of its peers, CannTrust is profitable. The company's expansion efforts at its Niagara greenhouse facility should boost its annual production capacity to well over 100,000 kilograms (about 220,500 pounds). CannTrust is well-positioned in the Canadian recreational marijuana market, having secured supply agreements with nine of the country's 13 provinces and territories.
CannTrust already has a major partner in the medical marijuana business -- Apotex, Canada's largest generic-drug maker. That relationship shouldn't interfere with a potential deal with a beverage company or tobacco company more interested in recreational cannabis-based products, though. And with a market cap of around $600 million, CannTrust would be a more affordable investment than either Canopy Growth or Cronos Group were.
2. Aurora Cannabis
Aurora Cannabis has also been rumored to be in talks with a big company outside of the cannabis industry. So far, though, there have only been rumors with no actual deal materializing. But Aurora has a lot going for it.
You can put production capacity near the top of the list of Aurora's advantages. The company should be on track to produce close to 700,000 kilograms per year, ranking as the top marijuana grower in terms of annual capacity. Aurora's products have been big winners in Canada's recreational marijuana market, with its brands generating around 30% of total sales for the Ontario Cannabis Store, the only online cannabis retailer in Canada's most populated province.
Aurora's international operations should make it even more attractive to a potential partner. The company has strong operations in Germany and other European medical marijuana markets. Aurora recently announced plans to acquire Farmacias Magistrales, Mexico's first and only federally licensed importer of raw materials containing THC. Perhaps the biggest negative for Aurora, though, is the price tag of a potential deal: The company's market cap currently stands at $5.7 billion.
You might be surprised to see Aphria still rank among the top marijuana producers likely to land a major partner. The company is embroiled in a controversy over allegations that it significantly overpaid for an acquisition of international operations in a deal that profited key insiders. Concerns had also arisen earlier this year about the acquisition of Nuuvera, in which Aphria insiders owned stakes in the company.
It's possible that these issues could prevent Aphria from being selected as a partner by a major player outside of the cannabis industry. However, the company should be a prime candidate if it can move past the current controversy. Aphria certainly claims a more attractive valuation than before thanks to the scandal, with its market cap down from nearly $4 billion in September to $1.4 billion now.
Aphria is on course to become the No. 3 marijuana producer in terms of capacity. The company is well-established in the Canadian recreational marijuana market as well as in key international medical marijuana markets.
Deal or no deal?
OrganiGram is another marijuana producer that could be a top candidate for a partnership. The company is a low-cost producer with significant production capacity on the way. You could also add Tilray to the list. The biggest strike against the company, though, is its inflated market cap of over $9 billion.
But are more deals on the way? It seems likely.
Other alcoholic-beverage companies (and perhaps nonalcoholic-beverage makers as well) will probably follow the path of Constellation Brands and Molson Coors, which struck a less-impressive deal with Hexo. Other tobacco companies could join Altria in making big bets on cannabis. Whichever companies make the next move, there's a pretty good chance that CannTrust, Aurora, and Aphria will be top partner candidates.
Keith Speights has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Molson Coors Brewing. The Motley Fool recommends CannTrust Holdings Inc, Constellation Brands, Hexo., and OrganiGram Holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.