On Dec. 21, Aurora Cannabis (ACB -1.12%) announced that its chief corporate officer, Cam Battley, would be leaving the company to work for MedReleaf Australia. Aurora owns a 10% stake in MedReleaf and has 50% voting rights in the company.
Earlier in the month, Neil Belot also decided to leave the company, although Aurora made no formal announcement. It hired Belot in 2017 to be its chief global business development officer, helping with its international growth.
Anytime a company loses a key executive, let alone two (especially since it's struggling), it could be a cause for concern.
Was Battley just the fall guy?
Battley was often the face of Aurora, speaking for the organization and providing the news media with updates. And with the company falling short of expectations multiple times, he's likely drawn the ire of agitated investors as well, especially as the stock hit new 52-week lows several times last year. Over the past 12 months, Aurora's share price has fallen by 61%, which is even worse than how the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index ETF performed, which declined by 41% during the same period.
At least part of the frustration from investors comes with the company's projection that its EBITDA should be positive by now. A year ago, Battley told investors that profitability was in sight, stating that "we can project positive EBITDA in the second calendar quarter." That's in reference to the company's fourth-quarter earnings of fiscal 2019. The company would not come close to profitability, even at adjusted EBITDA, which was a loss of 11.7 million Canadian dollars ($9 million). Although it was an improvement from the third quarter, when Aurora lost CA$36.6 million, investors were disappointed.
With reports surfacing that Aurora forced Battley out, it could show that Aurora is trying to distance itself from its poor performances in 2019 and looking to start with a clean slate for the new year. While Battley may have just been the figurehead and not likely the one behind the forecasts themselves, it's an easy way for the company to try to separate itself from those aggressive projections.
Does Belot's departure mean Aurora will focus less on international growth?
It's unclear whether Aurora pushed out Belot as well, and it's unlikely we'll ever know the real reasons he exited the company. But with the departure being low key and Aurora not announcing his replacement, it could indicate that the company is shifting priorities away from the global market for cannabis and onto the domestic one. While Aurora is still active globally and prides itself on having a presence in 25 countries, cash flow has also been on the company's mind of late.
In a press release on Dec. 23 about its recent changes, the company said, "Aurora has taken steps to proactively rationalize capital expenditures, reduce near-term debt and bolster liquidity in an effort to position the Company for the long-term success." Moving cash flow and expenses away from its global strategy would align with that statement, especially as the company focuses on ingestible products, which are now legal in Canada.
What should investors do?
Turnover shouldn't come as a big surprise, especially given the challenges that Aurora has faced in the past year. With the company falling short of expectations, it was likely that there would be changes coming. And while investors may not be excited by the moves, they do make Aurora's management team leaner and perhaps more focused.
However, investors should wait until the company releases some positive results before buying shares. As poorly as the marijuana stock has performed, its low price isn't enough to make it a buy. All that matters is if Aurora is able to hit a positive EBITDA figure and if it can do that while continuing to grow. Right now, it hasn't demonstrated that it can, and until it does, investors should stay away from the stock.