Few industries are generating the buzz that cannabis is right now. After delivering close to $11 billion in global licensed-store sales last year, the expectation, according to the newest State of the Legal Cannabis Markets report from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics, is that worldwide licensed-store sales will nearly quadruple to more than $40 billion by 2024. That's growth Wall Street and investors simply can't ignore.
But it's also a very fluid industry that comes with plenty of surprises. Whether it's an unexpected acquisition, a failure to legalize in a specific state, or allegations of a scandal, the cannabis industry has proven highly unpredictable. And this unpredictability reared its head in a big way last week.
Canopy Growth's co-CEO is shown the door
On Wednesday, July 3, you could rightly say that the fireworks went off early when a press release from Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC), the largest marijuana stock in the world by market cap, announced that co-CEO Bruce Linton was stepping down from his leadership role and the company's board of directors. The release noted that Mark Zekulin will become the sole CEO, with the board beginning the search for new leadership. This implies that while Zekulin now heads Canopy, he's only intended to be an interim solution.
Linton has arguably been the face of Canopy Growth for the past six years, having transformed it into the only large-cap marijuana stock (i.e., over $10 billion). He was instrumental in securing a number of major investments in the company from Corona and Modelo brewer Constellation Brands, including an initial $190 million investment in October 2017, and the larger $4 billion equity stake that closed in November 2018. These cash infusions, coupled with a $600 million convertible offering, have been instrumental in supporting Canopy's organic and inorganic growth, as well as its international expansion into more than a dozen countries.
But, according to Linton in an interview with CNBC's Squawk Box, "'stepping down' might not be the right phrase." Linton notes that the board terminated his employment, although he didn't get into the specific reasoning behind the move.
Two marijuana stocks Bruce Linton thinks you should buy (not named Canopy Growth)
What Linton did do with CNBC is entertain a number of questions about Canopy's future, his own future, and what he'd suggest investing in within the cannabis space.
Billionaire Kevin O'Leary, best known for his role on Shark Tank, asked Linton if there was one company he'd consider investing in now that he's not constrained as the co-CEO of Canopy Growth. Here was Linton's candid response:
Yeah, that's a good question. So, like, when I'm on the road marketing, I would tell everybody, 'You should buy at least half of your portfolio with Canopy, and if you're looking for a second one, what I like in the Canadian market because of how they run themselves is OrganiGram.' I found them to be pretty solid. And if you're trying to diversify, I like Rivers. Canopy Rivers is structured so that you actually have about 14 investments in one portfolio, but it's done by people who know the sector. So, those would be my diversified portfolio choice and my individual.
1. Canopy Rivers
Although it probably comes as little shock, Linton suggested that marijuana stock investors consider Canopy Rivers (NASDAQOTH:CNPOF), the spun-out venture capital business of Canopy Growth.
To date, Canopy Rivers has made 17 investments in public and private companies that it valued at CA$221.3 million ($168.7 million) at the end of April. The bulk of this value comes from holding a 13% fully diluted equity stake in Ontario-based TerrAscend, a cultivator and retailer of cannabis. However, Canopy Rivers also holds investments in genetics companies, formulators, branded beverage producers, data intelligence providers, and much more on top of simple cultivation and retail distributors.
The beauty of a company like Canopy Rivers is that its cost model is reasonably low. With the exception of share-based compensation, which has been high throughout much of the marijuana industry, Canopy Rivers looks to have a pretty clear path to bountiful earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) in 2020 and beyond.
Just keep in mind that (even though he's not affiliated with Canopy Growth anymore) Linton has some inherent bias in his suggestion of Canopy Rivers. Aside from his pivotal role as the company's leader for many years prior to its spin-off, Canopy Growth and Canopy Rivers share a symbiotic working relationship. Canopy Growth provides access to its distribution networks to a number of Canopy Rivers' investments, and it gives Canopy Rivers access to cash flow, proprietary structures, and global reach.
2. OrganiGram Holdings
Maybe the real surprise here is that, if given the choice to diversify into another marijuana grower, Linton sees OrganiGram Holdings (NASDAQ:OGI) as his top choice...next to Canopy Growth, of course.
OrganiGram Holdings is a fringe major player in the Canadian landscape, with 113,000 kilos of peak production a year once its Moncton, New Brunswick, facility is complete. Construction and full licensing is expected to be done by December 2019.
One aspect that makes OrganiGram unique is its focus on just one grow site. It's highly uncommon for major producers to put their eggs into one basket. But that's exactly what OrganiGram is doing, which helps to centralize any supply chain expenses, as well as giving it geographic advantages in the Atlantic region. Since no other major producers have large growing operations in the Atlantic provinces of Canada, OrganiGram has an opportunity to cement its brand in this region. But keep in mind that, like Canopy Growth, it's one of four pot stocks that has a supply deal with every Canadian province.
OrganiGram is also virtually untouchable from the perspective of yield. Its 113,000 kilos of peak annual output should be produced across roughly 490,000 square feet of grow space, leading to a yield per square foot of just over 230 grams. Although yields are still very fluid, this looks to be more than double the industry average, with the company's three-tier growing system to thank for its efficiency.
OrganiGram is unquestionably my favorite of the two that Linton mentioned in his CNBC interview, but perhaps both deserve a closer look by marijuana stock investors.