Future Returns: Investing In The Cannabis Industry
The stigma once associated with cannabis has dropped off dramatically.
The stigma once associated with cannabis has dropped off dramatically.
Several years ago Morgan Stanley did a poll of over 1,000 high-net-worth investors to see if they’d invest in legal cannabis. A full 65% said they were not likely to invest if cannabis were legalised in the next 12 months.
But Matt Bottomley, equity research analyst at Canaccord Genuity in Toronto, doesn’t hear this same level of objection to the industry today, and for good reason. “At the end of the day, I think the U.S. cannabis sector at maturity is probably US$80 billion to US$100 billion in sales,” he says.
The stigma once associated with cannabis has dropped off dramatically, and within the past month states including New York and Virginia, as well as Mexico, have either legalised it or announced plans to do so.
“You’re going to see it slowly, over the next years and decades transition from a more traditional consumer-packaged goods market,” Bottomley says. Presently, leading U.S. companies “are kind of doing everything in every market,” he says—from growing to producing, up to creating edibles and even operating retail in some markets. As legalisation expands across the world, big pharma may look to get in on it, changing valuations.
Big-name companies trading in the U.S. such as Canopy and Tilray see their stock prices appreciate when pro-legalisation stories hit the news. But because cannabis is still a Schedule I drug, meaning tightly regulated by the government, Bottomley says, “the fundamentals are not necessarily going to flow down to those types of companies.”
Meanwhile, leading American companies like Curaleaf or Trulieve trade on Canadian junior exchanges, less easily accessed by the overall U.S. retail investor market. He thinks there’s a tremendous amount of capital yet to come into this space. Many companies, he adds, are underserved by institutional investors as well.
“Over the long term if you pick the right horses in the sector, there’s still quite a lot of growth to be had.”
Here are three things Bottomley says to keep in mind when investing in the cannabis sector.
Investors entering the cannabis market have to consider their risk thresholds. “All of our buys on cannabis stocks to date are all speculative buys, and we do have holds and sells as well,” Bottomley says.
The sector can be home to wild price swings where for weeks at a time stocks go in one direction, before pivoting and going the other way. If they consider a 2%-to-3% move in a day outside their risk threshold, it might not be for them. Especially because the “wild directions” stocks move in aren’t necessarily tied to company performance.
Bottomley says it also requires a lot of patience. “You really have to be comfortable about where you are on that growth curve and how far ahead of markets opening up—you want to invest your incremental dollar to get ahead of what could eventually be a very large push upward.”
Cannabis is a sector where policy announcements about the future of legalisation can cause stocks to move in the same direction, but investors can’t let that alone sway them. Even if every cannabis stock is moving up or down, and the shift seems uniform, Bottomley advises exercising caution.
Not every cannabis company has exposure to the same markets or regions. When looking at companies in the cannabis space, he says it’s necessary to see how they’re situated in markets relative to their peer group.
He offers the example of a Canadian company trading at 30 or 40 times its forward profitability metrics, or Ebitda (short for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), but that lacks access to the U.S. market or other growth drivers.
“I prefer buying a company that’s trading at a lower multiple than that, but actually has that exposure,” he says. “That’s the first thing that I look at when I’m putting a rating to any of these companies that I cover.”
For Bottomley, management teams and their philosophies are particularly important in the cannabis industry. “We’ve seen a lot of good case studies for huge success stories and a lot of case studies where things haven’t gone so well,” he says.
Prior to Covid-19, Bottomley went on a lot of site visits, meeting management teams. What benefits investors long term, he says, are companies that aren’t too aggressive with mergers and acquisitions, don’t overpay for assets and focus on core markets where they have competencies and market share. But this also means having good infrastructure, like call centres to support patients for medical cannabis companies, or adequate supply for and quantity of retail locations to gain market share.
“Management teams can be fairly aggressive with respect to their messaging,” Bottomley says, “and that’s fine if you can back it up, but I think that’s something investors have to be particularly careful of when they’re choosing which operators they want to back.”
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Food prices continue to rise at a rapid pace, surprising central banks and pressuring debt-laden governments
LONDON—Fresh out of an energy crisis, Europeans are facing a food-price explosion that is changing diets and forcing consumers across the region to tighten their belts—literally.
This is happening even though inflation as a whole is falling thanks to lower energy prices, presenting a new policy challenge for governments that deployed billions in aid last year to keep businesses and households afloat through the worst energy crisis in decades.
New data on Wednesday showed inflation in the U.K. fell sharply in April as energy prices cooled, following a similar pattern around Europe and in the U.S. But food prices were 19.3% higher than a year earlier.
The continued surge in food prices has caught central bankers off guard and pressured governments that are still reeling from the cost of last year’s emergency support to come to the rescue. And it is pressuring household budgets that are also under strain from rising borrowing costs.
In France, households have cut their food purchases by more than 10% since the invasion of Ukraine, while their purchases of energy have fallen by 4.8%.
In Germany, sales of food fell 1.1% in March from the previous month, and were down 10.3% from a year earlier, the largest drop since records began in 1994. According to the Federal Information Centre for Agriculture, meat consumption was lower in 2022 than at any time since records began in 1989, although it said that might partly reflect a continuing shift toward more plant-based diets.
Food retailers’ profit margins have contracted because they can’t pass on the entire price increases from their suppliers to their customers. Markus Mosa, chief executive of the Edeka supermarket chain, told German media that the company had stopped ordering products from several large suppliers because of rocketing prices.
A survey by the U.K.’s statistics agency earlier this month found that almost three-fifths of the poorest 20% of households were cutting back on food purchases.
“This is an access problem,” said Ludovic Subran, chief economist at insurer Allianz, who previously worked at the United Nations World Food Program. “Total food production has not plummeted. This is an entitlement crisis.”
Food accounts for a much larger share of consumer spending than energy, so a smaller rise in prices has a greater impact on budgets. The U.K.’s Resolution Foundation estimates that by the summer, the cumulative rise in food bills since 2020 will have amounted to 28 billion pounds, equivalent to $34.76 billion, outstripping the rise in energy bills, estimated at £25 billion.
“The cost of living crisis isn’t ending, it is just entering a new phase,” Torsten Bell, the research group’s chief executive, wrote in a recent report.
Food isn’t the only driver of inflation. In the U.K., the core rate of inflation—which excludes food and energy—rose to 6.8% in April from 6.2% in March, its highest level since 1992. Core inflation was close to its record high in the eurozone during the same month.
Still, Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey told lawmakers Tuesday that food prices now constitute a “fourth shock” to inflation after the bottlenecks that jammed supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in energy prices that accompanied Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and surprisingly tight labor markets.
Europe’s governments spent heavily on supporting households as energy prices soared. Now they have less room to borrow given the surge in debt since the pandemic struck in 2020.
Some governments—including those of Italy, Spain and Portugal—have cut sales taxes on food products to ease the burden on consumers. Others are leaning on food retailers to keep their prices in check. In March, the French government negotiated an agreement with leading retailers to refrain from price rises if it is possible to do so.
Retailers have also come under scrutiny in Ireland and a number of other European countries. In the U.K., lawmakers have launched an investigation into the entire food supply chain “from farm to fork.”
“Yesterday I had the food producers into Downing Street, and we’ve also been talking to the supermarkets, to the farmers, looking at every element of the supply chain and what we can do to pass on some of the reduction in costs that are coming through to consumers as fast as possible,” U.K. Treasury Chief Jeremy Hunt said during The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London.
The government’s Competition and Markets Authority last week said it would take a closer look at retailers.
“Given ongoing concerns about high prices, we are stepping up our work in the grocery sector to help ensure competition is working well,” said Sarah Cardell, who heads the CMA.
Some economists expect that added scrutiny to yield concrete results, assuming retailers won’t want to tarnish their image and will lean on their suppliers to keep prices down.
“With supermarkets now more heavily under the political spotlight, we think it more likely that price momentum in the food basket slows,” said Sanjay Raja, an economist at Deutsche Bank.
It isn’t entirely clear why food prices have risen so fast for so long. In world commodity markets, which set the prices received by farmers, food prices have been falling since April 2022. But raw commodity costs are just one part of the final price. Consumers are also paying for processing, packaging, transport and distribution, and the size of the gap between the farm and the dining table is unusually wide.
The BOE’s Bailey thinks one reason for the bank having misjudged food prices is that food producers entered into longer-term but relatively expensive contracts with fertilizer, energy and other suppliers around the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in their eagerness to guarantee availability at a time of uncertainty.
But as the pressures being placed on retailers suggest, some policy makers suspect that an increase in profit margins may also have played a role. Speaking to lawmakers, Bailey was wary of placing any blame on food suppliers.
“It’s a story about rebuilding margins that were squeezed in the early part of last year,” he said.
The largest single-dwelling sales of the calendar year.
The Victorian capital’s top-grossing transactions.