Remember those heady days of the Green Rush a decade ago, when markets were small and it seemed everyone had a chance? Now it’s more of a mad rush to get some green in the form of investment capital.
The majority of states in the country now have some type of legal cannabis market. Businesses in those states operate in spite of regulations that are restrictive, confusing and make it very difficult to make a profit. Meanwhile, heavy tax burdens, differences in enforcement techniques and varying degrees of oversight are other factors that influence bottom lines in the cannabis industry.
Inflation also continues to be a prominent force across world markets. Sales of cannabis products have fallen as consumers adjust to inflation and post-COVID supply chain issues that are causing higher prices on necessary staples like food and gas. An oversaturation of cannabis flower is becoming a perennial problem in some states and another factor causing industry distress.
When cash flow slows to a trickle, companies of all sizes seek out investment funding to keep their momentum. But catching the eye of an investor group requires more than just sticking your hand out.
What Attracts Potential Investors?
A company is best positioned to attract those interested in cannabis investment opportunities when it appears serious about its growth plans. That means being well positioned with a solid upper-management foundation and so much the better if there’s an advisory board in place too. A company built with a diverse group of talent—ideally from consumer packaged goods companies—presents an attractive opportunity for investors.
Top-quality and industry savvy finance employees who maintain sound financial books and establish a solid banking arrangement are also important. If the company’s financial scenario is robust enough to provide confidence in case of an audit and the books are in good shape with auditable METRC logs investors will be far more inclined to put money on the line.
A cannabis company with full inclusion (or seed to sale) is often a smart choice for investment. The vertical integration of cultivation, processing/manufacturing and retail allows them to sell their own products while also stocking other brands’ products on the floors of their dispensaries. If their products are respected and the brand is held in high regard, even better. Similarly, a cultivation enterprise that can grow crops for multiple brands can also be very attractive. The ability to pivot and adjust production to reflect the market and consumer demands indicates a strong business foundation.
Despite the current headwinds and saturated markets, other chances for growth exist. When a local municipality finally decides to “opt-in” to adult-use cannabis sales, there’s opportunity for both established brands and startups. It’s a matter of being ready for those opportunities and having a plan to leap in whenever new licenses become available.
What Businesses Will Struggle to Attract Investment?
Culture is key here. Poor employee relations and weak cohesion across departments are indicative of deeper problems. Do people actually want to work for the business? Do they feel supported by human resources? A company with underdeveloped or non-existent workers’ compensation policies and a management team that is not respected by its employees is not going to look good in the eyes of potential investors.
Non-diversified cannabis businesses are also at a major disadvantage when seeking investors. Cultivators of one type of product or service are locked into a single operation geared to do one thing. Any changes to market whims or problems with the supply chain can wreak havoc on a business based around a single product.
Stick to Business Basics
The cannabis industry is unique, but the basics of running a business well enough for success still apply. Strictly adhering to the traditional methods that any successful organization follows is extra important in cannabis. Businesses that are active in their community and make a real effort to be involved will be held in higher regard by investors. They want to see cannabis businesses that are not just setting up shop to make a quick buck, but are dedicated to bettering their community. That indicates a relationship with customers that involves mutual respect and promotes business longevity and financial stability.
For U.S. venture capitalists (VCs), the burgeoning European cannabis market provides opportunities to break into the industry on the heels of adult-use legalization. Germany has set its sights on implementing a recreational market by 2024, and the country, along with several other European Union (EU) countries–Malta and Luxembourg–came together in September 2022 to draft a joint statement on why the EU needs a new approach to cannabis use for adult-use production, sale and consumption.
In October 2022, Germany took further steps to solidify its plans for legalization further when its Health Minister Karl Lauterbach presented a cornerstone paper on planned legislation to regulate the controlled distribution and consumption of cannabis among adults. Such actions have signaled to both the EU and the world at large that cannabis legalization in Germany is imminent, and the country is championing the new age of cannabis policy.
With the new German cannabis market soon to be on the horizon, both foreign and domestic VCs are considering how to best leverage investment opportunities into existing cannabis companies within the current medical-only market that will transcend into adult use. For U.S. investors, it’s important to do their due diligence to find the company that will transcend into the next progression of cannabis policy. In addition, European cannabis companies must do their own meticulous research when it comes to aligning with investors to meet both their financial and business goals.
How U.S. VCs Can Evaluate Investment-Worthy European Cannabis Companies
As with any investment, VCs benefit from researching the company and market they are planning to invest in. Regarding the company of interest, it’s important to examine which part of the cannabis market the company is serving: growers, retailers, ancillary products, service providers and biotechnology companies all exist as potential investment options within the space. An investor should look into a company’s annual revenue, evaluating whether it has increased, remained steady or decreased over time. Revenue growth is often provided on a company’s income statement.
In addition to making sure they have a thorough understanding of the business model and its value proposition, investors should also familiarize themselves with the company’s management team to make sure that they are knowledgeable and experienced in both running a company and the cannabis industry. For those interested in entering the German market, VCs should consider the businesses that are currently key players in the country’s medical cannabis industry and that plan to expand their services into the adult-use sector once legalization comes into play.
For example, Tilray, founded in 2014, was one of Canada’s first licensed medical producers. When Canada legalized adult-use cannabis several years later, in 2018, Tilray was one of the companies that successfully transitioned to expand its market share in Canada’s medical to the adult-use cannabis industry.
Another consideration for VCs is the reputation of the business and its leaders. Investors should seek out those who have become authorities within the industry and the movers and shakers who are providing key insights into the market. These business leaders should be front and center, discussing everything from current operations and compliance to cannabis policy and legislation to new endeavors and growing their businesses. With recreational cannabis legalization being a completely new endeavor for the EU, it is important for leaders within today’s European medical space to be visionaries for the next phase of cannabis legalization and be guides for creating regulations for this new market to be safe, sustainable and scalable.
In addition to executive teams, VCs should check if the business is meeting the current marketplace’s expectations and is ready to adapt and evolve as needed. This means that the company has access to a steady supply of high-quality cannabis at an affordable price and access to consumers (medical patients) and potential consumers. With adult-use legalization soon to be a reality in Germany, investors must consider which players in the medical-only market will be able to not only survive the transition but grow to become leaders in Germany’s new recreational market and within the EU as a whole.
What Do European Companies Look For in Terms of U.S. VCs
Just as VCs must find the right fit for them in terms of investments, cannabis companies must also align with investors that help them meet their financial and business goals. For cannabis companies, many seek to align themselves with VCs experienced in consumer, technology, and healthcare investments. While there are benefits to working with a VC with a cannabis background, companies should not deter investors who do not meet those specific criteria, as the cannabis market is still a fairly new and ever-transforming industry. In light of this, it’s important that investors approach opportunities with an open mind for both the industry’s current state and its potential.
As with most investments, both VCs and companies should be prepared to agree to a term sheet, a document that outlines the relationship between the investor and the business. An ideal investor would need to be supportive, well-connected, and add value by providing relevant business knowledge. While some investors seek a more hands-on role, in most cases, the VC’s support will not be equal to the business’s micromanagement or control of its day-to-day operations. Generally, those responsibilities would remain with the company’s executive team.
As an investor, it’s important to be supportive of the business; be a cheerleader for the company when things go well, and lift up the business when challenges occur. In addition, offering a network of referrals and strategies to excel is key to being a good asset to the business. Also, having a diverse portfolio of companies with synergistic opportunities can be very beneficial to growing cannabis businesses.
A question many investors ask before entering the space is how much in assets they should have on hand to be considered an eligible investment size. Typically, this depends on the business and its financial needs. Small profitable cannabis businesses that want additional financing may be able to secure a bank loan, if possible, in their home countries or seek a seed investment-focused VC for some capital. Leaders in Germany’s current medical-only market are seeking investors, both from the U.S. and abroad, to partake in Series A/B funding, seeking financial partners that can help them reach a goal of $20-80M USD.
European cannabis companies are within a high-growth market, so U.S. VCs looking to enter through investment do not have to go through a private equity firm. An investor can approach companies through networking or direct outreach. It is also important to note that investors do not have to convert their assets from USD to EUR, as it is done automatically when making investments. For the first time in 20 years, the USD and EUR are about equal, so now is a great time for U.S. investors to consider making the leap into European cannabis.
Businesses often require outside capital to finance operating activities and to enable scaling and growth. Financing in the cannabis industry is notoriously challenging with regulatory obstacles at the local, state and federal levels. Recent market dynamics pose additional challenges for both financiers and cannabis operators.
We sat down with Matt Hawkins, Founder and Managing Partner of Entourage Effect Capital (EEC) to learn more about EEC and to get his perspective on recent market trends.
Aaron Green: In a nutshell, what is your investment/lending philosophy?
Matt Hawkins: Entourage Effect Capital’s long history and experienced leadership allow us to access and construct high potential later-stage growth investments with sought-after industry leaders. We want to get ahead of what is happening on the regulatory and federal level to build scale with our investments.
Green: What types of companies are you primarily financing? What qualities do you look for in a cannabis industry operator or operating group?
Hawkins: Essentially, we are focused on investing in companies that will benefit the most when legalization occurs. We are currently working on multiple such deals, and separately, we are excited by how our newly minted, early-stage focused Arcview Ventures Seed Fund will provide a pipeline to the next generation of leading growth opportunities. When evaluating opportunities, we always look for the potential for scale and a strong management team.
Green: Capital market dynamics have led to significant public cannabis company revaluations in 2022. How has this affected your business?
Hawkins: As an industry, we all want companies to be valued for what they are worth, and right now, there are a lot of companies where that’s not the case due to the downturn in valuation. For us, it works the other way, because we are now able to invest at lower valuations with the hope of more upside when valuations reset.
Green: Debt on cannabis companies balance sheets have increased significantly in recent years. What is your perspective on that?
Hawkins: Debt is at its highest in industry. Operators don’t want to take equity capital at this point because valuations have come way down. However, we are lucky to have been in this business for a long time so that we can create our own deals. Our reputation precedes us — as a result, combined with the strength of our portfolio, people want us in their capital stack.
Green: How does the lack of institutional investor participation in the cannabis industry affect your business?
Hawkins: The lack of institutional capital in the industry makes it difficult for a large chunk of companies to grow and scale. For the industry to grow, there needs to be a different type of investor, investors who are not scared to go through the peaks and valleys we go through as an industry, whereas retail investors take their losses and move on. Everybody’s competing for the same small pool of money; managing cash is the most important factor for operators, whether private or public, big or small.
Green: What would you like to see in either state or federal legalization?
Hawkins: The illicit market still has a strong presence, and until we get regulatory reform, it’s going to continue. Reducing the tax burden on legalized markets would bring more revenue to both operators and the government because they’d reduce the market share of the illicit market, with the price offset trickling down to the retail customer.
Passing the SAFE Banking Act would create consequential changes for the cannabis industry. There is also a small chance that the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq could start listing legal plant-touching businesses. If that happens, more institutional capital would enter the market and flush the industry with cash, with market caps going way up. There is a lot of unease and uncertainty with retail investors that prop up the stocks in the space, and it will continue until there is regulatory movement, even on the private side.
Green: What trends are you following closely as we head towards the end of 2022?
Hawkins: I don’t see anything happening unless the SAFE Banking Act passes. Otherwise, things are status quo, especially with public companies. For private companies, we’re going to see a lot more consolidation, especially in California.
Business often require outside capital to finance operating activities and to enable scaling and growth. Financing in the cannabis industry is notoriously challenging with regulatory obstacles at the local, state and federal levels. Recent market dynamics pose additional challenges for both financiers and cannabis operators.
We sat down with Len Tannenbaum, CEO & Partner of Advanced Flower Capital Gamma (AFC Gamma, NASDAQ: AFCG) to learn more about AFC Gamma and to get his perspective on recent market trends.
Aaron Green: In a nutshell, what is your investment/lending philosophy?
Len Tannenbaum: AFC Gamma is one of the largest providers of institutional loans to cannabis companies nationwide in all aspects of production: cultivation, processing, and distribution. Cannabis companies, no matter the size, traditionally lack the lending opportunities that other enterprises have available, and that’s where AFC Gamma comes in. As an institutional lender, we provide financial solutions to the cannabis industry.
AFC Gamma is a commercial mortgage REIT that provides loans to companies secured by three pillars: cash flows, licenses, and real estate. We provide term loans, draw facilities, and construction loans. Each loan is unique and tailored specifically to meet the needs of our borrowers. This unique partnership approach with our clients allows us to find solutions to help them expand and grow alongside them.
Since starting AFC Gamma, we have completed almost $500 million of transactions. We provide capital to an industry that others do not and, in turn, allow these operators to build cultivation facilities, production facilities, and dispensaries.
Green: What types of companies are you primarily financing?
Tannenbaum: AFC Gamma seeks to work with operators, ideally in limited license states. We make loans to companies secured by three pillars: cash flows, licenses, and real estate. We tend to lend to operators in regulatory-friendly states, such as: Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, and Nevada. Traditionally, we shy away from states like California, Washington and Oregon given our approach to lending. We have 16 borrowers in 17 states, and what we look for are companies that we can grow with over the long term.
Green: What qualities do you look for in a cannabis industry operator or operating group?
Tannenbaum: We tend to work with three different buckets of operators. You have the large publicly traded multi-state operators (MSOs) we have lent to, such as Verano. Then you have the tier right below the top tier MSOs, where you have some public enterprises like Acreage, who is one of our borrowers, and then some private companies such as Nature’s Medicine and Justice Grown. The third tier are smaller operators. They’re single or two-state operators, and we’re typically coming in to help them build out licenses that they want or help them expand within that state. That’s why state-by-state dynamics are so important to us and why we typically only lend to limited license states.
We look at portfolio diversity on a step-by-step basis rather than a borrower-by-borrower basis. We tend to focus on deals in limited license states and also deals that have real estate as collateral. We have found that REIT loans give our clients the most flexibility, and we are able to finance more companies this way.
Green: Capital market dynamics have led to significant public cannabis company revaluations in 2022. How has this affected your business?
Tannenbaum: Although capital market dynamics have made an impact on a significant number of public cannabis companies’ revaluations this year, our overall business hasn’t been affected too much and that’s because the other lending options available right now are not ideal choices for most borrowers. One of the ways a lender can achieve credit enhancements or securities is by raising capital in the public markets. When the markets are more challenging, those companies have a harder time accessing capital when they may need it most. In turn, this could cause slow growth overall, more cash conservation and it removes one of the benefits to lenders. We’d like everyone to have more robust equity from that standpoint, but the flip side is, if equity gets too high in price, those borrowers won’t come to us lenders and they’ll raise capital in the equity markets since the equity is cheap. We’re definitely conducting a lot of business because the equity market is not available to cannabis companies. If that were to change, while our loans would be theoretically safer, they would choose equity instead of debt.
Green: Debt on cannabis companies balance sheets have increased significantly in recent years. What is your perspective on that?
Tannenbaum: When equity markets were free and the valuations were high, cannabis companies raised money in the equity markets rather than take on debt. Now that the equity markets have been somewhat closed and valuations are much lower, we see their debt has increased over the past two years.
Green: How does the lack of institutional investor participation in the cannabis industry affect your business?
Tannenbaum: Right now, we are one of the biggest lenders in cannabis. Looking to the future, though, if the SAFE Banking Act passes, we could see an influx of institutional capital that would increase competition amongst cannabis-specific and mainstream lenders. From the outset, most of the competition will come from hedge funds, not big banks. This competition will drive down interest rates and attract borrowers like MSOs.
Green: What would you like to see in either state or federal legalization?
Tannenbaum: The Senate passing the SAFE Banking Act. Should this happen, lenders, including AFC Gamma, will be able to borrow cheaper, which will, in turn, allow lenders to lend cheaper. It will be a net positive for all operators. It could also be positive for lenders assuming they have the infrastructure and capabilities to scale and decrease the cost of capital once the money starts flowing and more deals are being made.
Green: What trends are you following closely as we head towards the end of 2022?
Tannenbaum: The most important trend we’re following is state by state trends. We’re excited to see new states getting their act together like New York. We’re excited about Georgia. We’re also looking forward to Missouri going rec. On the flip side, we’re also watching Virginia issue more than 400 licenses, diluting down the limited license states into basically an unlimited license state, which personally doesn’t make sense.
The other trend we’re watching across the country is cannabis prices. There is definitely a gray and legacy market that goes across border that should be enforced. That flow of cannabis product is depressing prices, especially in the unlimited license states. I believe there is a chance that trend starts reversing as many grows are now inefficient. The low end of inefficient grows are going to start closing, which may increase prices going into next year.
As the regulated cannabis industry matures, M&A activity is expected to continue accelerating. Whether they are existing licensed businesses looking for acquisition opportunities or new investor groups seeking to enter or expand their positions in the industry, investors should recognize the special due diligence challenges associated with cannabis industry transactions.
Above all, investors should avoid the temptation to omit or short-circuit long-established due diligence practices, mistakenly believing that some of these steps might not be relevant to cannabis and hemp operations. Despite the unique nature of the industry, thorough and professional financial, tax and legal due diligence are essential to a successful acquisition.
Surging M&A activity
Over the past few years, as the cannabis industry matured and the regulatory environment evolved, M&A activity involving cannabis and hemp companies has undergone several cycles of expansion and contraction. Today, the expansion trend clearly has resumed. Although the exact numbers vary from one source to another, virtually all industry observers agree that 2021 saw a strong resurgence in cannabis-related M&A activity, with total transactions numbering in the hundreds and total deal values reaching into billions of dollars. Moreover, most analysts seem to agree that so far, the pace for 2022 is accelerating even more.
Today, many existing cannabis and hemp multistate operating companies are in an acquisitive mood as they look for opportunities to scale up their operations, enter new markets, and vertically integrate. At the same time, the projections for continued industry growth over the next decade have attracted a number of investment funds and private equity groups, which were formed specifically for the purpose of investing in cannabis and hemp businesses.
These two classes of investors often pursue distinctly different approaches to their transactions. Unlike the largely entrepreneurial cannabis industry pioneers now looking to expand, the more institutional investors are accustomed to working with professional advisers to perform financial, tax and legal due diligence as they would for a transaction in any other industry.
Among both groups, however, there is sometimes a tendency to misunderstand some of the transactional risk elements associated with cannabis M&A deals. In many instances, buyers who are generally sensitive to potential legal and regulatory risks will underestimate or overlook other risks they also should examine as part of a more conventional financial and tax due diligence effort.
For example, since much of the value of a licensed cannabis operation is the license itself, investors often rely largely on their own industry understanding and expertise to assess the merits of a proposed acquisition, based primarily on their estimation of the license’s value. This practice provides acquirers with a narrow and incomplete view of the deal’s overall value. More importantly, it also overlooks significant areas of risk.
Because cannabis acquisition targets typically are still quite new and have no consistent earning records, acquirers also sometimes eschew quality of earnings studies and other elements of conventional due diligence that are designed to assess the accuracy of historical earnings and the feasibility of future projections.
Such assumptions and oversights often can derail an otherwise promising transaction prior to closing, causing both the target and the acquirer to incur unnecessary costs and lost opportunities. What’s more, even if the deal is eventually consummated, short-circuiting the normal due diligence processes can expose buyers to significant unanticipated risk down the road.
Recurring issues in cannabis acquisitions
The most widely recognized risks in the industry stem from the conflict between federal law and the laws of various states that have legalized cannabis for medical or adult recreational use. The most prominent of these concerns relates to Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC 280E).
Although its use is now legal in many states, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. IRC 280E states that any trade or business trafficking in a controlled substance must pay income tax based on its gross income, rather than net income after deductions. As a result, cannabis businesses are not entitled to any of the common expense deductions or tax credits other businesses can claim.
The practical effect of this situation is that cannabis-related businesses – including growers, processors, shippers and retailers – often owe significant federal income tax even if they are not yet profitable. Everyone active in the industry is aware of the issue, of course, and any existing operating company or investment group will undoubtedly factor this risk into its assessment of a proposed acquisition target.
The challenge can be exacerbated, however, by other, less widely discussed factors that also affect many cannabis businesses. These issues further cloud the financial, tax and regulatory risk picture, making thorough and professional due diligence even more critical to a successful acquisition.
Several of these issues merit special attention:
Nonstandard accounting and financial reporting practices. As is often the case in relatively young, still-maturing businesses, acquisition targets in the cannabis industry might not have yet developed highly sophisticated accounting operations. It is not uncommon to encounter inadequate accounting department staffing along with financial reporting procedures that do not align with either generally accepted accounting principles or other standard practices. In many instances, company management is still preparing its own financial statements with minimal outside guidance or involvement by objective, third-party professionals. Significant turnover in the management team – and particularly in the chief financial officer position –is also common, as is a general view that accounting is a cost center rather than a value-enhancing part of the management structure.
Such conditions are not unusual in young businesses that are still largely entrepreneurial in spirit and practice. In the cannabis industry, however, this situation is also a reflection of many professional and business services firms’ longstanding reluctance to engage with cannabis operators – a hesitancy that still affects some organizations.
When customary business practices are not applied or are applied inconsistently, acquiring companies or investors should be prepared to devote more time and attention – not less – to conventional financial due diligence. The expertise of professional advisers with direct experience in the industry can be of immense benefit to all parties in this effort.
Restructuring events or nonrecurring items in financial statements. Restructuring events and nonrecurring items are relatively common in many new or fast-growing businesses, and they are especially prevalent among cannabis operations. In many instances, such companies have engaged in multiple restructuring events over a short period of time, often consolidating operations, taking on new debt, and incurring various one-time costs that are not directly related to the ongoing operations of the business.
The inclusion of various nonrecurring items within the historical financial statements can make it much more difficult for a buyer or investor to accurately identify and assess proforma operating results, especially in businesses that have not yet generated consistent profits. Here again, applying previous experience in clearing up the noise in the financial statements can help improve both the accuracy and timeliness of the due diligence effort.
Run-rate results inconsistent with historical earnings or losses. A company’s run rate – an extraction of current financial information as a predictor of future performance – is a widely used tool for creating performance estimates for companies that have been operating for short periods of time or that have only recently become profitable. In cannabis businesses, however, run-rate estimates sometimes can be unreliable or misleading.
Because it is based only on the most current data, the run rate often does not reflect significant past events that could skew projections or recent changes in the company’s fundamental business operations. Because such occurrences are relatively common in the industry, the results of run-rate calculations can be inconsistent with the target company’s historical record of earnings or losses.
Historical tax and structuring risks new owners must assume. Like many other new businesses, cannabis operations often face cash flow and financing challenges, which owners can address through alternative strategies such as debt financing, stock warrants, or preferred equity conversions. Such approaches can give rise to complex tax and financial reporting issues as tax authorities exercise their judgment in interpreting whether these items should be reported as liabilities or equity derivatives. The situation is often complicated further by various nonstandard business practices and the absence of sophisticated accounting capabilities, as noted earlier.
As a consequence, financial statements for many cannabis companies – including a number of publicly listed companies – often contain complex capital structures with numerous types of debt warrants, conversion factors and share ownership options. Although an acquisition would, in theory, clean up these complications, buyers nevertheless must factor in the risk of previous noncompliance that might still be hidden within the organization – a risk that can be identified and quantified only through competent and thorough due diligence.
Not as simple as it seems
On the surface, the fundamentals of the cannabis industry are relatively straightforward, which is one reason it appeals to both operators and investors. For example, participants at every stage of the cannabis business cycle – growing and harvesting, processing and packaging, shipping and distribution, and ultimately marketing and retailing – can readily apply well-established practices from their counterparts in more conventional product lines.
The major exception to this rule, of course, is the area of regulatory compliance, which is still shifting and likely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Outside of this obvious and significant exception, however, most other aspects of the industry are relatively predictable and manageable.
When viewed in this light and in light of the continued growth of the industry, it is easy to see why cannabis-related acquisitions are so appealing to existing business operators and outside investors alike. It is also easy to understand why buyers might feel pressure to move quickly to take advantage of promising opportunities in a fast-changing industry.
As attractive as such opportunities might be, however, buyers should take care to avoid shortcuts and resist the urge to sidestep established due diligence procedures that can reveal potential accounting and financial statement complications and the related compliance risks they create. The unique nature of the cannabis industry does not make these practices irrelevant or unnecessary. If anything, it makes professional financial, tax, and legal due diligence more important than ever.
Crowe Disclaimer: Qualified organizations only. Independence and regulatory restrictions may apply. Some firm services may not be available to all clients. Given the continued evolution and inconsistency of various state and federal cannabis-related laws, any company should seek competent legal advice relating to its involvement in the cannabis industry, including when considering a potential public offering as a cannabis-related company.
In a press release sent out today, Emerald Holding, Inc. announced they have completed their acquisition of MJBiz for $120 million.
Emerald Holding, Inc. is a large, publicly traded business-to-business events producer and content conglomerate with a number of publications and events in industries like design, equipment, retail, safety & security and technology. Founded in 2013, the company has become a leading operator of B2B trade shows in the US, with their largest shareholder being the Toronto-based investment group called Onex Corporation.
MJBiz, founded in 2011, is known in the cannabis industry for their content platform, MJBizDaily, as well as the world’s largest cannabis trade show, MJBizCon.
As part of the agreement to acquire MJBiz, Emerald Holding will retain senior management in the company for day-to-day operations. The agreement also includes the potential for future payments, depending on the company’s performance through the end of this year.
Hervé Sedky, President and CEO of Emerald Holding, says they have been big fans of the MJBiz brand for a long time. “We have long admired MJBiz’s sterling reputation for being the most trusted event and content producer serving the business side of the cannabis and hemp industries and their respective participants,” says Sedky. “This is a transformational acquisition for Emerald as it represents an important next step in the implementation of our strategic initiatives and underscores our commitment to evolve and grow our customers’ businesses 365 days a year.”
The two founders of MJBiz, Cassandra Farrington and Anne Holland, will stay on with the company in a consulting capacity. According to Farrington, who is also chair of the MJBiz Board, says they went with Emerald because they value the company’s uniqueness. “Our organization has experienced massive growth since its inception, initially as a how-to resource to help dispensary owners run their businesses better, into our position today as the leading commercial resource for the cannabis sector,” says Farrington. “Integrating with a larger organization provides the additional resources and channels to unlock the next phase of MJBiz’s growth and is the right next step in our evolution as a business.”
Village Farms International (NASDAQ: VFF) manages and operates greenhouse facilities in North America. They’ve worked with growers for over 30 years and started supporting cannabis growers in 2017. The company was founded by Michael A. DeGiglio and Albert W. Vanzeyst in 1987 and is headquartered in Delta, Canada. But is Village Farms stock a strong buy?
What is Village Farms International?
Village Farms International has a long history of managing and operating energy efficient grow facilities for agricultural crops. This includes cannabis, recently, and vegetables which bring in over $200 million in revenue annually.
Their 2021 acquisition of Pure SunFarms, one of Canada’s best known cannabis brands, gave them around $17 million in extra revenue and a large opportunity in the flower competition in Canada. Current goals have them taking 20% of the flower market share. They also deal in vapes, oils and infused edibles.
Bottom Line: Is Village Farms Stock a Strong Buy?
Village Farms stock shows plenty of promise. They have a large footprint in Texas as well, supporting hemp cultivation and processing into CBD products for distribution in the USA. With a small stake in Altum International, they also have a presence in Asia.
Excitingly, their subsidiary Balanced Health Botanicals, has come out with their Synergy Collections of SKUs (cannabinoids such as CBDA, CBG, and CBG with non-hallucinogenic mushrooms and Kava roots). These products will come as tinctures, capsules and drinks (around 31 SKUs pending) and should diversify their product offerings even more.
Their revenue remains strong, with adjusted EBITDA up 49% YoY and Pure SunFarms reporting 12 straight quarters of positive adjusted EBITDA. They have a lot of cash and are paying off their debt and recent acquisition costs quickly. With really low P/S, Price/Book and EV/Revenue ratios (all under 4) we see a bargain price now for a company that should slowly grow for the next six quarters.
Village Farms stock presents a longer buy and hold opportunity but the recent price drop (37% in 1 year?!) is making much more of an enticing deal now.
For all these reasons we rate VFF as Strong.
83% of Cannin’s fundamentals prove true within 30 days or less on 100+ recommendations over the past 3 years.
Investors looking to gain exposure to the cannabis space have several options given the increase in the number of cannabis producers in the past decade, the recent wave of legalization in the U.S. and a rapidly expanding addressable market. However, one undervalued cannabis stock with enticing growth prospects that remains a top buy today is Columbia Care (OTC: CCHWF). Let’s see why we are bullish on the large-cap multi-state operator right now.
What is Columbia Care?
Columbia Care is one of the largest cannabis producers in the world with 31 manufacturing and cultivation facilities. It has 99 dispensary locations in the U.S. with more than two million square feet of cultivation capacity and over 300 acres of outdoor cultivation capacity.
The company’s rapid expansion over the last few years has allowed Columbia Care to increase sales from $77.45 million in 2019 to $179 million in 2020. Wall Street expects sales to more than triple to $626 million this year and grow by another 55% to $970 million in 2022. In case Columbia Care manages to meet analyst estimates, the company would have grown its revenue at an annual rate of 132% between 2019 and 2022.
While several of Columbia Care’s peers, especially in Canada, are grappling with negative margins, this cannabis company is racing towards profitability. It has already narrowed its operating losses from $81 million in 2019 to $31.5 million in the last 12-months. Analysts expect its bottom-line to improve from a loss per share of $0.48 in 2020 to earnings of $0.27 per share in 2022.
Columbia Care has a strong presence in markets such as Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania that provide limited licenses to cannabis producers. This allows Columbia Care to improve customer engagement and ensure repeat purchases of its products.
In the second quarter of 2021, it increased revenue by 232% year over year to $110 million. Its adjusted EBITDA also rose to $16 million, compared to a loss of $4.7 million in the prior-year period.
Now, Columbia Care has shifted focus to larger cannabis markets including New York, Arizona, Columbia and New Jersey. In Q2, its sales in Arizona and Illinois rose by 23% and 15% respectively, on a sequential basis.
The cannabis heavyweight recently completed the acquisition of Medicine Man, a Colorado-based cannabis producer, for $42 million. Columbia Care explained the acquisition will be accretive to its bottom-line and is valued at 4.5x projected EBITDA for 2021.
Columbia Care has improved its gross margins to 42% in Q2, from 36% in the prior-year period. Its operating costs have also fallen from $61 million to $51 million in the last year, making it one of the best cannabis stocks on the market today.
Bottom Line: Why Should You Add Columbia Care to Your Cannabis Portfolio?
Columbia Care expects its total addressable market in licensed U.S. states to reach approximately $31 billion by 2026. In the event that cannabis is legalized at the federal level, this figure will surge significantly higher. Additionally, Columbia Care is well poised to gain traction in the future and leverage existing expertise, as it already has wholesale distribution agreements in 13 operational markets.
Its capital expenditure investments continue to generate returns as the company continues to benefit from economies of scale and higher margins.
Welcome to the Cannin Commentary Column. We’re happy to announce our partnership with Cannin Investment Group, a cannabis investment analysis firm. In this new column, we will provide readers with a taste of Cannin’s insights and analysis that they offer to their members. Throughout the new installments of this column, you’ll find articles that will touch on investment tips, trends, predictions, market updates and more.
Companies in the cannabis sector have the potential to increase your wealth at an enviable rate over the upcoming decade. But what are the 3 cannabis stocks that can gain over 50% according to analyst estimates?
The wave of cannabis legalization sweeping through the U.S. right now as well as the prospect of decriminalizing or even legalizing adult-use will be key drivers for licensed producers.
Here, we take a look at three cannabis stocks in Columbia Care, Green Thumb Industries and Cresco Labs that should be on your buying radar right now. Each of these stocks is also trading at a deep discount according to Wall Street estimates, allowing investors to derive market-beating gains in the next year.
U.S.-based multi-state operator, Columbia Care (OTC: CCHWF) is valued at a market cap of $1.12 billion. The company has already increased revenue from $77.4 million in 2019 to $179 million last year.
Now, Wall Street expects sales to more than triple year over year to $625 million in 2021 and surpass $970 million next year. These stellar growth rates in revenue should allow Columbia Care to improve its bottom-line from a loss per share of $0.48 in 2020 to earnings per share of $0.3.
Columbia Care has a presence in 18 jurisdictions across the U.S. and Europe where it operates 31 cultivation and manufacturing facilities.
The company generated $110 million in revenue in Q2 which was 232% higher than the prior-year period. Columbia Care has 73 active dispensaries and another 26 under development, enabling it to target a rapidly expanding addressable market that is forecast to touch $31.6 billion by 2026.
So, is Columbia Care a cannabis stock that can gain over 50%? Well, analysts tracking Columbia Care stock have a 12-month average price target of $9.38 for the stock which is more than 200% higher than its current trading price.
Green Thumb Industries
A cannabis giant trading 46% below its all-time high, Green Thumb Industries (OTC: GTBIF) is valued at a market cap of $4.4 billion. Headquartered in Illinois, Green Thumb Industries has 13 manufacturing facilities, licenses for 111 retail locations and currently operates in 14 domestic markets.
In the second quarter of 2021, the company’s revenue rose by 85% year over year to $222 million – driven by strong demand in Pennsylvania and Illinois. The Q2 of 2021 was also the fourth consecutive quarter where Green Thumb reported a profit, with a net income of $22 million compared to a loss of $13 million in the prior-year period.
Green Thumb currently has 65 retail stores and just opened a third store in the state of New Jersey which is a market that recently legalized cannabis for adult use. While retail sales in New Jersey are expected to begin next year, Green Thumb’s presence in the medical space will enable the company to gain traction in the highly competitive adult-use cannabis vertical as well.
So, is Green Thumb Industries a cannabis stock that can gain over 50%? Well, analysts expect Green Thumb stock to rise by 95% in the next 12-months given its average price target of $37.54.
The final stock on our list is Cresco Labs (OTC: CRLBF), another cannabis heavyweight valued at a market cap of $2.16 billion. A vertically integrated cannabis operator, Cresco Labs currently has 40 dispensaries in 10 states and has grown its sales from $43 million in 2018 to $476 million in 2020.
Most states have a limit on the licenses they are allowed to issue and this barrier to entry allows Cresco and peers to enjoy a competitive advantage in the markets they operate in. Cresco Labs reported revenue of $210 million in Q2, a rise of 123% year over year.
It reported a net profit of $2.7 million in Q2 compared to a loss of $41 million in the prior-year quarter. Cresco expects to generate $1 billion in sales by the end of 2021, making it among the first cannabis companies to reach the milestone.
We believe Cresco is certainly a cannabis stock that can gain 50%. Wall Street expects Cresco Labs stock to gain over 60% compared to its current trading price.
In this “Flower-Side Chats” series of articles, Green interviews integrated cannabis companies and flower brands that are bringing unique business models to the industry. Particular attention is focused on how these businesses integrate innovative practices to navigate a rapidly changing landscape of regulatory, supply chain and consumer demand.
4Front Ventures Corp. (CSE: FFNT) ( OTCQX: FFNTF) is a multi-state operator active in Washington, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan and California. Since its founding in 2011, 4Front has built a reputation for its high standards and low-cost cultivation and production methodologies earned through a track record of success in facility design, cultivation, genetics, growing processes, manufacturing, purchasing, distribution and retail. To date, 4Front has successfully brought to market more than 20 different cannabis brands and nearly 2,000 unique product lines, which are strategically distributed through its fully owned and operated Mission dispensaries and retail outlets in its core markets.
We interviewed Andrew Thut, chief investment officer of 4Front Ventures. Andrew joined 4Front in 2014 after investing in the company in 2011. Prior to 4Front, Andrew worked in investment banking and later moved on to public equity where he was a portfolio manager at BlackRock.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Andrew Thut: I came at it from the investment side of things. I started my career as a junior investment banker right out of school and then I was a public equity analyst and Portfolio Manager. I ran small-cap growth portfolios for BlackRock where I was on the team for a better part of 11 years.
One of my friends, Josh Rosen, who came from the finance industry, got interested in the cannabis industry really in 2008. He founded 4Front as a consulting company officially in 2011 and I came in as an investor. After that original investment, I left BlackRock and I was looking for something different to do. I was tired of chasing basis points and running public market portfolios. Josh said to me “This industry needs more talent,” and I became more and more involved at 4Front as the years went on. In 2014, I came into the business full time. Originally, I was someone that was kind of the gray hair in the room when we were applying for licenses. We had to go to different municipalities and convince them that we were going to be responsible license holders. I also spent a lot of time on the capital raising side for our business leveraging my career in corporate and more traditional public finance. These are incredibly complex businesses that require a fair amount of capital in some places. So, that’s how I originally got into the business.
These are complicated businesses in a lot of cases. The “sausage making” in cannabis is incredibly complicated. There’s friction at every step along the way. As an example, when you’re buying a building where you want to cultivate your product, you can’t get a mortgage from a typical bank.
While those of us that have been in the industry like to gripe and complain about it, this friction is also the opportunity. Because more traditional investors can’t invest in this industry yet, it allows us more time to build our businesses and have some protective moats around it from a competition standpoint until those folks do come in. So, all this friction is a pain and it’s brutal, but it’s also the opportunity here in cannabis.
Green: Can you speak to the transformation of 4Front from consulting to MSO?
Thut: The original business was consulting. Our original investor was sensitive about touching the plant – it’s one thing to offer services to a federally illegal business, it’s another thing to directly run a federally illegal business. For example, 4Front would have consulting clients that were interested in acquiring a license in Massachusetts. Because of our expertise and our standard operating procedures, we could apply for licenses in limited license states on behalf of our clients and help them show regulators competence and give the regulator’s confidence that these operators knew what they were doing. So, we would help our clients win the licenses and then once those licenses were won, our operations folks would come in and help them get up running.
When I came into the business we said, “well, geez, we have quite a track record helping clients win licenses and get open. If we’re good at winning these licenses and getting them open, why aren’t we just doing this on our own behalf?” So, in 2015, we shifted the business from consulting to being a multi-state operator. We leveraged our capabilities in regulatory compliance and winning licenses to go and get those on our own behalf. We also leveraged our financial expertise in M&A to add to our portfolio, so what we ended up with was a seven-state portfolio at the time.
Green: Chief Investment Officer is an uncommon title, even in the MSO space. What does your day-to-day look like?
Thut: I spend an awful lot of time helping management plot our strategy, and then figuring out how we are going to pay for our growth. Not only structuring finances for the company, but also having contact with our existing and new investors.
I spend a lot of my day to day thinking about where we want to be as a business and what geographies we want to be in. If you look at cannabis longer term, we have less interest in being cultivators or farmers. We think that’s going to be the most quickly commoditized piece of the value chain. We like retail as a business, but I think that we have less interest in managing hundreds of retail locations scattered across the country. We ultimately want to be a finished goods manufacturer. What we think is going to matter longer term is establishing low-cost production.
There is a lot of price elasticity in the end markets for cannabis meaning if you get customers a quality product at a much better price than the competitor, you’re going to take outsize market share. To offer that lower price, you have to be efficient. Over the years, we have figured out how to bring the labor cost out of our production. We have 25 different brands with 1000s of different SKUs of products that have dominant market share in states like Washington. And we’re now putting them into Illinois, Massachusetts, California, Michigan, and hopefully New Jersey.
Green: Do you have a preference towards acquisition, or do you seek growth through internal investments?
Thut: We are always weighing build versus buy. We want our products to have dominant market share, or very strong market share in every state we are in, and we have a lens towards what gets us there faster and most efficiently. For instance, we have two cultivation facilities and one production facility here in Massachusetts – about 15,000 square feet of canopy in the state. That will just about serve our three retail locations in Massachusetts.
Back to our bigger investment thesis, we believe that we should be a finished goods wholesaler in every state that we’re in. We know our products are incredibly well received and we know that consumers love our price point. In Massachusetts, for instance, we’re currently evaluating if we need more capacity from a cultivation standpoint and a production standpoint. And if we do where do the lines cross in terms of whether we should build versus buy that additional capacity?
We are currently in five states, including our facility in Washington has dominant market share in one of the toughest markets in the world for cannabis – somewhere close to 9% market share in Washington. Our brands are in the top 10 of every single category from flower to vapes, to edibles everything across the board. And what we’re doing our strategy is simple. It’s taking those tried-and-true products and operating procedures that have been so effective in Washington, and we’re replicating them in other states where we have licenses: Massachusetts, Illinois, and Michigan, California and hopefully New Jersey. We’re looking for more state, but we want to be deep in the states we’re in.
We also have a lot of confidence that you know, having been having translated some of these, having been able to effectively take our Washington success story and port it to other states. We’re looking for other states to sort of bring into the portfolio because we feel like we’re in a position now to stamp it out.
At our facility in Washington, which is the number one edibles manufacturer in that state, we produce the edible Marmas which is our the number one selling gummy in Washington. We produce 3,500 boxes of those in one shift using 25 people in Washington. Our facility is one of the lowest cost producers in the country.
We are opening what we think is going to be a very disruptive facility in Southern California right now. The facility is 170,000 square feet of purely automated finished goods production. So, rather than making 3,500 boxes of our gummy squares in one shift using 25 people, with the automation that we have in California, we can make 30,000 boxes. So, 10x one shift for the same number of people. We look more like the Mars Candy Company than most investors would think of when they see a typical cannabis company. We’re bringing that kind of scale and automation.
Green: What are some of the industry trends that you’re watching closely?
Thut: We keep a close eye on limited license states. States like Massachusetts and Illinois. For various reasons Massachusetts is very tough to get zoned. So, there’s going to be a limited number of players in a state like Massachusetts, which means you can have pretty good moats around your business and pricing will hold up over several years. We love limited license states like that, where price is going to hold up. On the other hand, we’re not afraid to enter a state like California where we think our low-cost production expertise uniquely qualifies us to go into a huge market like that and be disruptive and take a lot of the pie.
“You’re starting to see the market expand. There’s some anecdotal evidence that we’re taking a fair amount of share from the beer industry.”What we’re seeing in terms of industry trends, particularly on the THC side of this business, has just been phenomenally strong. You’ve had robust medical markets where, by and large, we’re seeing those dominoes start to fall quickly and going recreational. When that happens, the size of the market increases – call it from 2% of the population to as much as 10% of the population. So, from a state regulatory standpoint, having states go form medical to adult use is a huge deal in terms of the market opportunity.
We’re also seeing states get a lot more comfortable with the idea of selling cannabis. I’ve been around for close to seven years in this industry. When I started and I went into a municipality, and I said we wanted to open a cannabis store you’d have people following me to my car with pitchforks. As these municipalities open and public acceptance comes around, people are realizing that these stores are providing jobs and providing a good tax base for communities. So, the acceptance of cannabis has a snowballing effect that just continues to roll.
It’s not just the ultra-frequent users of cannabis who are totally driving the bus in terms of the demand growth for your business. You’re starting to see the market expand. There’s some anecdotal evidence that we’re taking a fair amount of share from the beer industry. So, the fundamentals of this industry are phenomenal. I think that we’re probably in the second inning of what is a mega-trend of legalization of cannabis and the investment opportunity here.
Green: I think one of the interesting things about the fundamentals is you’ve got this hardship of 280E, that all the companies are facing, and yet you still have groups that are surviving, profitable and growing. What are your thoughts on 280E’s effect on cannabis businesses? Do you foresee anything happening there?
Thut: There was a huge liquidity crunch in cannabis in 2019, meaning it was hard for people to come up with capital to grow their businesses. You had a bunch of companies that had licenses who didn’t really know how to operate and weren’t really focused on profitability. That liquidity crunch of 2019 made people get religious about being profitable and being efficient with capital allocation. Fast forward to 2021 and if you look at the top 10 cannabis MSOs in the US, I think we’re all profitable.
So, here you have an industry with accelerating top line growth and they’re already profitable. That profitability should only improve as you’re able to leverage your operating expenses and that’s a unique thing. When the internet craze was started in 1999 you had companies that a weren’t profitable, didn’t have business models, and no one really knew what they wanted to be. You have companies here in cannabis that are growing the top line 50% a year, and they’re profitable, and they’re trading at under 10 times EBITDA, which is totally disjointed.
So, that leads me to your question on to 280E. 280E has been a problem. Banking has been a problem. Having to list our companies over the counter instead of on exchanges like the NASDAQ and NYSE – that’s been a problem in terms of attracting capital. But the good news is Senator Schumer, Senator Booker and others have put out some bold initiatives on what they want to achieve from a legalization standpoint. From an investment standpoint, the biggest thing that investors should be focused on is access to banking, which is included in the senators’ proposed legislation.
Once we get access to banking services, the federal government is basically acknowledging cannabis as an industry will be able to not only have more traditional financing for our growth, but it will also lead to uplift into exchanges and real institutions like the Fidelity’s and the BlackRock’s of the world being able to come and invest in these companies. It also acknowledges 280E is an antiquated law. Getting rid of 280E will give us a much lower tax rate and will allow us to have a bigger proportion of our pretax cash flow into growing our businesses rather than having to go outside for that funding. My crystal ball is probably no better or worse than others in the industry, but if you fast forward 18 months to two years, I have a tough time seeing 280E still in place.
Green: Last question here. What’s the thing you’re most interested in learning about in the cannabis industry?
Thut: I’m just fascinated to see how these various business models will play out. People are placing bets on picks and shovels. People are placing bets on whether being a finished goods manufacturer works. People are placing bets on whether a retailer business model is going to win the day.
If you look at the leadership in the cannabis industry today, it’s totally different than it was four years ago. People that were foregone winners four years ago like MedMen had to do significant recaps. I put Acreage in that sort of bucket too. The leadership had shifted and so I’m really curious to see just from an intellectual standpoint, how this business evolves.
I sometimes scratch my head, you know, do you really want to be a cannabis company with 200 retail locations? You’re going to have a tough time growing same store sales in three to five years in 200 retail locations. So, I’m just most curious in proving out our thesis of being finished goods producers and low cost finished goods producers in the value chain. I’m most curious in seeing how that plays out. I think we are seeing our strategy play out in the most competitive markets in the world. We have a high degree of conviction that we’re on the right track here, but our eyes are always open and we’re always making little pivots here and there trying to make sure to stay on top of the sweet spot in the value curve.
If you describe the cannabis industry generically and you didn’t say cannabis, you said “widget” I think it’s the most fascinating Business School case ever presented. If you’re taking this market that already exists, it’s just illegal. So, all it needs to do is switch from the black market to the legal market and then you’re always trying to plot a course and steer the ship towards where the highest value creation can be. So, I’m fascinated to see how it’s going play out here.
Green: That concludes the interview. Thanks Andrew!
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
We use tracking pixels that set your arrival time at our website, this is used as part of our anti-spam and security measures. Disabling this tracking pixel would disable some of our security measures, and is therefore considered necessary for the safe operation of the website. This tracking pixel is cleared from your system when you delete files in your history.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.