Within the fast-growing cannabis space, there isn't a pot stock that draws more attention from investors than Aurora Cannabis (NYSE:ACB). A quick look at the company's production profile and international reach lends clues as to why.
In terms of annual output, Aurora projects to lead all cannabis growers. Currently producing at an annual run rate of 150,000 kilos per year, the company anticipates increasing its annual run rate to at least 625,000 kilos by the midpoint of next year. This, of course, assumes that three of its largest grow projects -- Aurora Sun, Aurora Nordic 2, and Exeter -- all receive cultivation licenses.
This is also a company with massive geographic breadth. Whether it's production, distribution, research, or exports, Aurora Cannabis has a presence in 24 countries worldwide, including Canada. These external sales channels should come in particularly handy if and when Canada's dried flower becomes oversupplied in the years to come and domestic producers need alternative means to offload their products.
But the most popular pot stock in the world has a number of lingering question marks for the remainder of 2019. Here's what current shareholders and prospective investors should be eyeing in the second half of the year.
1. Will we hear about entry into the U.S. market?
One of the bigger questions on the minds of Wall Street and investors is when Aurora Cannabis will detail its entrance into the U.S. market. We've already seen close to half of Aurora's major competitors enter the U.S. hemp industry, thereby laying the processing and distribution infrastructure that would be needed if and when the U.S. federal government changes its tune on marijuana at the federal level. But as of now, Aurora hasn't outlined its plans for the U.S. market.
Back in mid-January, Aurora's chief corporate officer, Cam Battley, told Business Insider in an interview that "We'll be unveiling our hemp-derived CBD [cannabidiol] strategy to enter the U.S. market over the next few months." However, that time frame has come and gone with little mention of what Aurora's next steps are. As a company that prides itself on geographic expansion, it's almost a certainty that we'll hear about Aurora's U.S. CBD-market plans in the second half of 2019.
2. Will a brand-name partner emerge?
Another 800-pound gorilla in the room is Aurora's mid-March hiring of billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz as a strategic advisor. Peltz, the founder of Trian Fund Management, has particular expertise in the food and beverage industries, which makes him a logical choice to broker discussions between Aurora and brand-name food or beverage companies. To boot, Aurora's management has previously suggested its interest in entering the cannabis-infused beverage space.
But here we are three months after the hiring was announced, and Aurora Cannabis has yet to announce any major partnerships beyond that of vape giant PAX Labs. As Canada's leading producer, Aurora has a pedigree that should attract brand-name food and beverage companies. Perhaps, though, Aurora's asking price or share-based dilution has chased them off to this point. Either way, it would be a major surprise if Aurora ended 2019 without announcing a significant partnership, joint venture, or equity investment from a brand-name company.
3. Does positive recurring EBITDA mean a substantially smaller net loss?
Since February, Aurora Cannabis' management team has stood firm on its belief that the company would be generating positive recurring EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) beginning in the fiscal fourth quarter (April 1, 2019, to June 30, 2019). Pushing into positive recurring EBITDA is viewed by many investors as validation of the company's long-term potential.
The bigger question is, will this push into positive EBITDA actually lead to smaller net losses? Remember, there are a lot of expenses, one-time benefits, and costs that pot stocks contend with. In Aurora's most recent quarter, it wound up losing close to 94 million Canadian dollars on an operating basis, even with a bunch of one-time negatives removed from the equation. Put plainly, Wall Street is going to want to see a significant reduction in Aurora's operating losses for the remainder of 2019, but it remains to be seen if that proves the case.
4. Does Aurora lean on its shelf offering?
In early April, Aurora Cannabis filed a shelf offering that allows it to offer up to $750 million (that's U.S. dollars) in stock and convertible notes over the next 25 months should it choose to do so. Executive chairman Michael Singer suggested that the shelf offering was needed to cover the company's "global expansion plans and partnering strategy," according to Yahoo! Finance Canada. However, Singer did note that there were no immediate plans to tap this shelf offering.
What investors and prospective buyers will want to monitor is whether Aurora decides to lean on this shelf offering in the months that lie ahead. Aurora has made an almost insane 15 acquisitions since August 2016, and nearly every one of these deals was financed entirely by issuing its common stock, thereby diluting existing shareholders. It's really not a question of whether Aurora will make another acquisition at this point -- inorganic growth is a big component to the company's long-term game plan. It's whether we see additional dilution via a shelf offering over the next six months and change.
5. How much movement will we see in the recreational-to-medical weed sales ratio?
Last but not least, pay close attention to Aurora's quarterly income statements and just how much revenue it's deriving from recreational marijuana relative to medical cannabis. In the third quarter, Aurora reported a nearly 50-50 split in cannabis revenue between the recreational and medical markets, down from a 55% medical to 45% adult-use split in the sequential second quarter.
The company has been very clear that it would prefer to focus on higher-margin medical pot, which is in stark contrast to many of its peers. Then again, Aurora may not see a big boost from medical sales until its international revenue soars -- and that may not occur until Canada resolves its supply issues. For the time being, this recreational-to-medical weed sales ratio will go a long way to determining Aurora's margins and is therefore worth closely monitoring for the remainder of 2019.