The stock market was little changed on Tuesday morning, with only modest moves despite a favorable reading on consumer confidence and some upbeat comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell regarding the future course of interest rates and central bank monetary policy. As of shortly before 11:30 a.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was up just 3 points to 26,095. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) rose 3 points to 2,799, and the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) picked up 2 points to 7,557.
Many investors are looking for ways to find growth while protecting against a potential downturn. The big boom in cannabis stocks has placed a lot of attention on marijuana producers, and Aurora Cannabis (NYSE:ACB) just announced a key strategic move to try to bolster its future growth. Yet more broadly, concerns about the health of the world economy weighed on Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), as analysts reacted negatively to the current state of affairs globally.
Aurora acquires a stake in Gaia
Aurora Cannabis saw its stock rise 4% after the Canadian cannabis giant announced the latest in a series of acquisitions. The company said that it had acquired a 51% interest in Portuguese company Gaia Pharm, with the intent of establishing a local facility to produce medical cannabis and derivative products. Following the purchase, the business will take the name Aurora Portugal.
Gaia just received Portuguese regulatory approval for an application to build a cannabis cultivation facility that will comply with European Union requirements for medical marijuana. Aurora expects the first phase of construction to be complete by the third quarter of 2020, with production capacity initially at 2,000 kilos per year and expanding to 4,000 kilos annually once phase 2 is complete.
With the purchase, Aurora expanded the scope of its international network to two dozen companies. Portugal in particular is a solid choice for Aurora, given that it just allowed medical cannabis distribution to its own citizens in January. The company will be able to export to other EU countries.
The only missing piece was how much Aurora paid for the acquisition. Many have criticized the budding cannabis giant for using its shares too freely to make strategic purchases. Nevertheless, Aurora has emphasized growth at all costs, and this latest move is consistent with its longer-term strategy.
Caterpillar takes another hit
Elsewhere, shares of Caterpillar fell 2%. The latest move downward for the stock of the heavy equipment manufacturer came following negative comments from analysts at UBS, who warned that the cyclical recovery that Caterpillar has seen in recent years could be coming to an end. UBS made the rare move of downgrading its rating on the stock all the way from buy to sell in one fell swoop, and it slashed its price target on Caterpillar by $29, to $125 per share.
In particular, UBS believes that tailwinds that Caterpillar has gotten from the construction industries in the U.S. and China along with the oil and gas industry are likely to hit a top in 2019, with a pullback starting in 2020. That could cause an outright decline in the company's earnings, something that many investors aren't prepared to see. Already, there have been signs that equipment buyers are turning to the auction market to pick up used machinery at a discount rather than buying new.
The news comes as no big shock to those who've followed Caterpillar, as the stock fell following its fourth-quarter financial report in late January. Nevertheless, it'll be up to the company to figure out how to balance price increases and the need to contain costs against taking action to drive up demand. It'll take careful threading of that needle in order to sustain Caterpillar's growth in the years to come.