Regrettably, Aurora Cannabis (ACB 2.19%) hasn't been a good growth stock for most of its investors. Its shares are down by just over 98% in the last three years, it's (still) nowhere near profitable despite being more than a year into a cost-cutting transformation, and its revenue has steadily declined over time.
But sometimes the best investments are the ones that nobody else can see the value of (yet). And while it's far too early to call it a comeback, there are three signs that could portend a brighter future for Aurora, so let's weigh each of them to see if they might be enough to justify a contrarian play.
1. It's paying down debt
Debt is only one component of Aurora's issues, but it's hard to argue that less is better. While the company isn't particularly indebted, with around $388.1 million Canadian dollars ($300.4 million) in debt and capital lease obligations, the cultivator is making steady progress in deleveraging, which eventually will free up more of its cash flow for reinvesting in growth.
On June 3, it repurchased $20 million of its convertible senior notes, which will lead to cash savings of around $7.5 million in interest payments annually. That's on top of the $100 million in convertible debt repurchased from earlier in the year.
If this progress continues, it'll be a positive sign for the company's long-term health, as it'll regain the ability to take out new debt at an attractive rate to finance expansion. Still, cutting production and distribution costs to approach profitability will probably need to happen first, so reducing debt load isn't a reason on its own to buy the company's shares.
2. It's accumulating some cash, and it can raise even more
Unprofitable businesses burn a lot of money, and with trailing-12-month operating expenses in excess of $182.2 million, Aurora is no exception. But thanks to a bought-deal offering that closed on June 1, it's sitting on a fresh cash infusion of $172.5 million. That leaves it with a total war chest of $354.4 million as of June 3. And it has the ability to raise an additional $186 million via its existing at-the-market facility should it need to.
In short, don't expect Aurora to go out of business anytime soon. It'll need to get its cost of goods sold a bit lower in the near term, however; its trailing-12-month cost of revenue was more than $153 million. Improvements in the efficiency of its cultivation operations could be key in paving the way, which might require it to make more cuts to its output capacity.
Investors should keep an eye on whether such cuts are expected to result in lost revenue from an inability to serve demand. Though seeing money left on the table might be painful, it would help the business to stretch the cash it has, and it could be favorable for its long-term survival.
3. Short interest is falling over time
One of the clearest indicators that the market expects a stock to drop is the amount of short interest in a company's shares. The more people who are shorting a stock, the more pessimistic the expectations are. And in Aurora's case, short interest is dropping over time, falling by more than 28% in the last 12 months. That leaves it with around 8.8% of its outstanding shares being held short, a far cry from the more than 25% toward the end of 2020.
For reference, Tilray Brands, a major competitor in the Canadian cannabis market, has nearly 13.6% of its shares held short; massive and stable companies like Apple tend to have less than 1%. So the market's pessimism about Aurora is dropping, and expectations are a bit higher than for some of its peers. But there's still a long way to go before the business is perceived as actually being solid.
In other words, don't buy the stock just because other people are less down on it, as they could easily change their minds if earnings disappoint.