It's getting to be that time when everyone starts looking forward to the coming new year and all that it might bring. But even more fun (and more tricky) is to look beyond just the next year and instead try to envision what might happen five years from now.
Take Aphria (NYSE:APHA), for example. Right now, the Canadian marijuana producer is experiencing some of its worst days ever. The stock has lost more than half of its value this year largely because of short-sellers' allegations that Aphria insiders profited as the company significantly overpaid for international acquisitions. But where will Aphria be in five years?
The good scenario
You don't have to try too hard to imagine a very bright picture for Aphria in 2023. In this positive scenario, the allegations hovering like a dark cloud over the company now would have been long forgotten after Aphria thoroughly rebutted each charge.
There are also three key developments that need to happen for Aphria to really be in great shape five years from now. One is that the company lands a major partner outside of the cannabis industry like Cronos Group recently did with tobacco giant Altria. Several candidates could conceivably team up with Aphria, but alcoholic beverage maker Diageo might be the odds-on favorite.
In a dream scenario, Aphria stock would rebound significantly before Diageo (or another player) made a sizable investment. Together, the two partners would then launch cannabis-infused beverages that go on to generate billions of dollars in sales over the next several years.
Another key development for 2023 to be a fantastic year for Aphria is that the company enters the U.S. market in a major way. This isn't a far-fetched thought. All it would take would be for federal laws to be revised in a way that allows states to regulate marijuana on their own. Efforts are already underway to make this a reality.
What's the third development for Aphria to enjoy a fantastic future? More U.S. states and more countries legalize recreational marijuana. Again, this one isn't hard to imagine. Illinois, New Jersey, and New York appear to be headed toward legalization. If Canada's recreational marijuana market is successful, it's possible that other major countries could also decide to legalize recreational weed.
Put all of this together, and you've got Aphria and a strong partner with deep pockets targeting a rapidly growing global market. The stock could easily be worth five times or more than it is now. And the good times would likely keep on rolling.
The bad scenario
Before you get too excited, though, let's consider at a much different outlook for Aphria. A bleak, horrible, no-good outlook.
In this scenario, Aphria's special committee formed to investigate the allegations made by short-sellers finds lots of problems that lead to an even bigger scandal. Investors' confidence in the company, already shaken, essentially evaporates.
Major companies outside of the cannabis industry decide they wouldn't touch Aphria with a 10-foot pole. Instead, the companies flock to Aphria's rivals that don't have partners yet. The deals end up putting Aphria at a cash disadvantage, resulting in the company issuing even more shares to raise capital -- and dramatically diluting the value of its existing shares.
To make matters worse, efforts to change federal laws in the U.S. run into a dead end, leaving Aphria excluded from the biggest marijuana market in the world. Meanwhile, international marijuana markets grow much more slowly than expected, limiting Aphria's opportunities globally.
At home in Canada, production capacity in the cannabis industry cranks up like crazy, resulting in a supply glut in the country that's still a huge problem for Aphria in 2023. Aphria CEO Vic Neufeld predicted last summer that the time could come in Canada when "the strong will survive, but the weak will not." In the doomsday scenario for Aphria, the company ends up among the weak rather than the strong because of its largely self-inflicted wounds.
What's most likely?
It's possible that either of these extreme scenarios could happen for Aphria. The safest bet, though, is on Aphria being somewhere in the middle of these very different views of its future five years from now.
Perhaps the most likely scenario is one in which Aphria doesn't emerge unscathed from the short-sellers' allegations but suffers no major damaging revelations either. That would leave the door open for the company to potentially attract a major partner from outside the cannabis industry.
However, I wouldn't count on a partner waiting for Aphria's share price to bounce back significantly before striking a deal. As a result, Aphria might receive less cash than Cronos Group did from Altria.
My guess is that the supply glut referenced in the bad scenario will be in full swing by 2023. On the other hand, I also expect that U.S. federal laws will be revised well before then so that Aphria can enter the U.S. market. And the chances of more big states legalizing recreational marijuana appear to be quite good.
What about the prospects for additional countries legalizing recreational weed? it's quite possible that the status quo won't change over the next five years -- with the notable exception of Mexico, where the Supreme Court has overturned a ban against recreational marijuana.
Overall, though, this middle-of-the-road scenario should still bode well for Aphria. As long as no serious scandal erupts, the future for the marijuana stock five years from now should be a lot better than its present circumstances.