Over the past two years, marijuana stocks have been all the rage among investors -- and for several good reasons. With the march toward legalization gaining momentum worldwide, for instance, medical and recreational cannabis sales are on pace to hit a jaw-dropping $146.4 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research.
Not all marijuana companies have seen their market caps grow by leaps and bounds in the past year, however. The Ontario-based pot producer Aphria (NYSE:APHA) (TSX:APHA) is a prime example. Although the company's shares have appreciated by more than sevenfold in last three years, Aphria's share price actually lost a whopping 55% of its value over the course of 2018.
Does this sizable pullback represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for marijuana investors? Let's dig deeper to find out if this former star of the fledgling cannabis industry can reverse course to make early investors wealthy.
Despite Aphria's poor showing last year, the company actually has quite a bit going for it. First off, Aphria is on track to become the third-largest pot producer in Canada, behind only Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth. Turning to the specifics, the company has been rapidly expanding its Aphria One facility over the past year, which is slated to help boost its annual production capacity to approximately 255,000 kilograms.
Equally as important, the company's large-scale operation and greenhouse growing strategy has allowed it produce cannabis at one of the lowest costs in the entire industry for the better part of the last year. Aphria, for example, noted that its cost of production per gram of cannabis came in at an impressive 0.95 Canadian dollars during the fourth quarter of 2018.
That quarterly production cost figure is considerably better than either Aurora's or Canopy's at present, although Aurora is racing to lower production costs through the hyper-expansion of its in-house facilities and Aphria's production cost did jump significantly in the most recent quarter due to the implementation of new automation processes.
Another feather in the company's cap is its emerging management team. Aphria now has ties to beverage maker Diageo through the addition of Tom Looney to its board of directors and Jakob Ripshtein as president. While Aphria has yet to attract a major partner like Canopy Growth or several other Canadian pot producers, these key additions to its leadership team could pave the way for a deal soon.
Last but certainly not least, Aphria sports one of the most attractive valuations in the emerging cannabis space right now, with its shares currently trading at a forward-looking (2020) price-to-sales ratio of only 4.4.
Aphria does have its fair share of critics, however. The company's acquisition of three Latin American entities last year, for instance, sparked a highly critical report by short-sellers Hindenburg Research and Quintessential Capital Management. In brief, the report alleged that Aphria insiders used these acquisitions as a way to "divert funds away from shareholders into their own pockets."
While Aphria vigorously defended these M&A transactions, the report's main argument seems to have seriously damaged the company's image within the investing community. As proof, Aphria's dropped by 28% in the immediate aftermath of this report. Moreover, CEO Vic Neufeld and co-founder Cole Cacciavillani both decided to step down earlier this month. To be fair, Neufeld and Cacciavillani each cited personal reasons for their departure, but the timing of this news certainly didn't help the company image-wise.
Why did the market react so strongly to these allegations? The heart of the matter is that Aphria is operating within an industry that has a lengthy history of attracting unscrupulous actors. So, fairly or not, this company is an easy target for short-sellers and that fact probably won't change anytime soon.
Could Aphria be a millionaire-maker stock for early-bird investors? If Aphria lives up to its enormous value proposition as a top producer of quality cannabis and cannabis-derived products, there's no doubt that its shares will perform exceptionally well in the years ahead. Aphria, after all, is well-positioned to compete against even the titans of this multibillion-dollar industry.
As such, it's certainly possible that an investment of say, $10,000, at current levels could transform into $1,000,000 over the next 25 years. In fact, Aphria's shares would only need to appreciate at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.2% over a 25-year period to meet this goal. The legal marijuana space, on the other hand, is projected to far outpace even this stately growth figure over the next two decades.
The counterpoint to this rosy outlook, though, is that short-sellers are probably going to continue to weigh on this name for the time being. Aphria still has more work to do to change the narrative surrounding the Hindenburg Research and Quintessential Capital Management report, after all. Aphria, therefore, doesn't stand out as a "must-own" growth stock right now.