One week from today, we'll enter a new year and a new decade, which for marijuana stock investors can't come a moment too soon. Although cannabis stocks have been on fire for years, 2019 was the first reality check for investors in some time.
Following an incredible first quarter that witnessed more than a dozen pot stocks rise by at least 70%, the subsequent nine months since the end of March have been spent in a seemingly never-ending downtrend. Supply issues throughout Canada and high tax rates in select U.S. states have squashed any near-term hope of profits for pot stocks and made cannabis the proverbial lump of coal left in the stockings of those who misbehave.
But, believe it or not, a few cannabis stocks actually made Santa's nice list in 2019, and it has everything to do with their income statements. In an industry where losses abound, these pot stocks have stood out for all the right reasons.
One of the most impressive marijuana stocks in 2019 was extraction-services provider MediPharm Labs (MEDIF -0.20%), which produced not one, but two consecutive quarters of no-nonsense profits.
By "no-nonsense profits," I mean a simple scenario where sales are higher than cost of goods/services and recurring operating expenses, without any one-time benefits, costs, or fair-value adjustments being factored into the equation.
What's really impressive about MediPharm's ability to generate a profit in the second and third quarters is that the company only began processing services for hemp and cannabis biomass in Canada in November of 2018. In other words, it pretty much took a quarter and a half, even with ongoing spending to ramp up capacity, for MediPharm Labs to go from concept to what looks like recurring profitability.
As an extraction-services provider, MediPharm Labs is right in the thick of the derivatives push in Canada -- derivatives being alternative consumption options, such as edibles, vapes, infused beverages, tinctures, topicals, and concentrates. Since these deliver considerably better margins than traditional dried cannabis flower sales, it's in growers' interests to devote a significant portion of their lineup to these products. That makes MediPharm an essential middleman in the derivative movement.
Best of all, the company's processing contracts are typically for 18 months, if not longer. This means it's not signing one-off deals, but rather securing predictable cash flow with these contracts for the foreseeable future.
Vertically integrated multistate operator (MSO) Trulieve Cannabis (TCNNF 3.36%), which is based in Florida, also finds itself on Santa's nice list after continuing to pile on no-nonsense profits throughout 2019.
Although Trulieve Cannabis has a presence in a handful of states, including California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, it's been laser-focused on opening dispensaries in its home market of Florida, where only medical marijuana is currently legal. Recently, Trulieve opened its 40th retail location in the Sunshine State, which is a big reason it's been able to successfully gobble up so much market share. Rather than trying to establish a presence in as many states as possible, like most MSOs, focusing on Florida has led to considerably lower expenses and better brand-building for Trulieve.
Just how good has Trulieve Cannabis been? Through the first nine months of the year, the company generated $173.1 million in sales, up 159% from the prior-year period, while operating expenses grew almost on par (up 161%) to $50.6 million. For practically every MSO and Canadian pot stock, expense growth has far outstripped sales growth. Even removing one-time benefits and fair-value adjustments, Trulieve's operating income through the first nine months of 2019 is nearly $61 million.
With Florida residents potentially voting on recreational weed legalization in November of 2020, Trulieve's market could continue to blossom.
Innovative Industrial Properties
No nice list of Santa's would be complete without a mention of cannabis-focused real estate investment trust (REIT) Innovative Industrial Properties (IIPR). Similar to Trulieve, it's been cranking out one quarterly profit after another for some time now.
The beauty of Innovative Industrial Properties' business model is the predictability. This is a company that buys growing and processing facilities for medical marijuana, then leases them out for an extended period of time. There's rarely anything surprising about the REIT model, with consistent cash flow expected to stream in for a very long time.
For IIP, as the company is known in shorthand, its weighted-average remaining lease length is a hearty 15.5 years, with an average yield on invested capital of 13.6%. After bolstering its portfolio from 11 properties at the start of 2019 to 42 today, it looks to be on pace to completely recoup its $431.2 million in investments in just over five years. That's one heck of a quick payback, and all the more reason it was recently able to up its dividend to $1 per quarter. For context, IIP's quarterly payout has risen 567% in just over two years.
Furthermore, IIP's business model looks to be protected for another year, at minimum. This company thrives off the fact that U.S. growers and MSOs have minimal access to capital. That's because marijuana is illegal at the federal level, and banks don't want to deal with the ramifications of providing basic services to pot companies. IIP can therefore step in and provide sale-leaseback agreements that put cash into the hands of MSOs, while adding lucrative long-term leases to its portfolio.
While the marijuana industry was mostly a lump of coal in 2019, these pot stocks are certainly on Santa's good side.