Marijuana stocks like Cronos (NASDAQ:CRON) look a bit creaky at the moment, and CRON stock may be Exhibit A in the case that the group is stalling out. Cronos stock has dropped by over one-third just since early March, with the near-term question whether a recent bottom can hold.
I’m skeptical it will. Valuation is a bit more reasonable than it was earlier this year, when I thought Cronos Group stock was overvalued. But CRON is hardly cheap. Analysts have turned bearish. And that bearishness seems to coincide with the core problem here.
Cronos simply hasn’t driven the right kind of narrative for a marijuana stock at this valuation. Looking around the sector, there are concise, obvious bull cases for most of the well-covered stocks. Outside of the nearly $2 billion in cash coming in from Altria (NYSE:MO), Cronos lacks that case. And until that changes, Cronos is likely to struggle.
The Need for a Story
Investing in cannabis stocks at the moment isn’t about the fundamentals. This is an industry at the very beginning of its growth. Price/earnings and even price/sales multiples are enormous and not necessarily comparable. The fundamental toolkit an investor might use to value a mature company simply doesn’t apply in the sector at the moment.
And so both the decision to invest in the sector at all, and which cannabis stock to choose, come down largely to long-term projections and even feel. Will the industry grow for years, as proponents argue? Is the oversupply already seen in legalized U.S. markets like Oregon a long-term risk? When does broader U.S. legalization arrive? Who of the myriad publicly traded cannabis plays wins and who loses?
In that type of investing environment, a stock needs a succinct bull case, an elevator pitch so to speak. And most of the well-covered cannabis plays have that type of case. Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC) is the early leader, and thanks to Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ,NYSE:STZ.B) has the largest war chest. Aurora Cannabis (NYSE:ACB) is taking so many shots on goal that it’s likely to score on at least one of them. Charlotte’s Web (OTCMKTS:CWBHF) is the pure play on CBD (cannabidiol) oil. Even struggling Tilray (NASDAQ:TLRY) may have positioned itself to win if capacity gets overbuilt. And so on.
What Is the Story Behind CRON Stock?
What’s the story behind CRON stock, however? The company has a ton of cash coming in, to be sure. But its production capabilities aren’t particularly impressive: as The Motley Fool noted, Cronos isn’t even in the top ten in terms of available capacity. Its Spinach retail brand doesn’t appear as strong as those from Canopy or Hexo (NYSE:HEXO). Its positioning in the Canadian adult-use market seems behind that of many peers.
Even analysts somewhat favorable to the stock aren’t sure what to make of it, as James Brumley noted earlier this month. CIBC World Markets analyst John Zamparo wrote that the company hadn’t given much colors on its plans for actually using that capital. Cannacord Genuity cited “a number of strategic initiatives that could eventually unlock longer-term value.”
Those aren’t compelling points in favor of Cronos stock. Rather, they’re something more akin to a “poke and hope” strategy. Cronos has a lot of cash, and the marijuana industry should grow, so the company will eventually figure something out. That kind of case might work in the middle of 2018, or the beginning of 2019, when marijuana stocks on the whole are soaring. As we’ve seen of late, however, it can’t work forever.
Cronos Group Stock Isn’t Cheap
Meanwhile, Cronos remains priced in line with those peers who have better stories – and better growth. Cronos’ Q1 report wasn’t particularly impressive either fundamentally or in terms of management commentary. The company did turn a profit but only thanks to non-cash benefits, some of which related to the Altria deal. On an operating basis, Cronos continues to lose money.
That’s not a problem on its own: most stocks in the space are posting operating losses as they build out production, processing, and supply chain capabilities. But CRON, relative to revenue, continues to be valued roughly in line with the leaders of the space.
That’s not going to hold if Cronos can’t prove that it will be a leader long-term. Right now, it’s not making a good enough case – and until that changes, Cronos stock is going to underperform. And with marijuana stocks right now seeming to stall out, that in turn suggests that CRON is headed below $15.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.