What’s Altucher’s “The ONLY Marijuana Stock You’ll EVER Need” pitch about?

Checking out the "massive state-of-the-art greenhouse" that Altucher says will outproduce Canada's entire market... what's this stock?

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, September 24, 2019

Marijuana stocks have been falling, and yet James Altucher is pitching his Altucher’s Investment Network newsletter ($49/yr) with the promise that he’s found the only one of these stocks you’ll ever need… and it’s all because of “a massive state-of-the-art greenhouse… that’s about to revolutionize the marijuana market as we know it.”

So what’s he talking about? He throws in the familiar “look at this mysterious building” photos, and the misleading clues…

“Located just 25 miles from Cleveland, Ohio…

“This experimental greenhouse is listed at over 1.4 million square feet (equivalent to over NINE FULL-SIZED Costco warehouses)…

“And with 27 million watts of electricity and a 100% closed-loop water recycling system…

“Is capable of producing weed at unheard-of levels.

“At full capacity…

“It could pump out nearly 341,000 pounds of marijuana every single year…

“To put that into perspective, according to this company, the entire Canadian market right now only produces 132,000 pounds.”

I don’t know exactly what the current production is in the Canadian market… but I know that there are more than a dozen Canadian growers that expect to reach at least 100,000 kilograms of dried flower production within the next year or so, with several of them soon to be well above that — including Canopy and Aurora at more than half a million kilograms each in production capacity (a kilogram is about 2.2 pounds, in case you’re metric=challenged, so that means this greenhouse would be big but probably not unique… and saying it would be more than twice the size of current Canadian production is wildly misleading even if we acknowledge that Canadian production has changed dramatically in the last year and will keep growing very fast for the near future).

And then Altucher shares a bunch of enticing numbers about the broad market potential…

“According to the latest data, with legalization in full swing…

“And numerous uses for marijuana and hemp, including industrial, medicinal and recreational…

“Since 2014 — demand for weed is projected to soar over 3,500%…

“And flat out —

“Marijuana producers just can’t keep up.

“Financial commentator Charles Kennedy claimed last year:

‘Licensed cannabis growers only have about 60,000 kg per year of capacity. That’s well short of the 900,000 kg Canadians are expected to consume in the first 12 months after legalization.'”

That was the story trotted around last year, but the “shortage” talk seems to have subsided and some folks are talking about a glut now — there are certainly retail shortages in some areas, but presumably that’s more of a licensing and regulatory problem than a production problem.

More not-terribly-well-supported excitement from the ad:

“According to this company, in the next 12 months, Canada might only be able to produce less than 7% of the amount of marijuana they need.

“In other words… they could be 93% short of meeting current demand.

Are you getting our free Daily Update
"reveal" emails? If not,
just click here...


“And that’s just Canada…

“When you factor in the massive quantities required for the U.S.…

“Plus the projected increase in demand over the following years…

“The shortage we’re about to see will be staggering!”

OK, so that’s to scare you into thinking the opportunity is massive and imminent… and into it, as is usual for a teaser ad, steps “one little company” with the solution…

“Enter this tiny company and the mega greenhouse I’ve been telling you about…

“With annual capacity of 341,000 pounds of weed and the possibility for over 680,000 pounds…

“It’s perfectly positioned to fill this HUGE shortage of marijuana and collect billions of dollars in the process.”

We’ll get back to that premise in a bit, but first let’s grab the rest of the clues so we can get you some answers… Altucher quotes some external sources to make his idea seem well-researched and legitimate:

“As PR Newswire claimed:

‘For companies like [this tiny company] that can help plug the supply gap, this represents a huge opportunity… The economic impact is predicted to be truly massive… it’s possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity.'”

and…

“As Keith Speights wrote, this tiny company…

‘Offers one key advantage to investors that most marijuana stocks don’t: diversification across the cannabis supply chain'”

and…

“Seeking Alpha went on record and revealed…

‘[This tiny company] has been laying the foundation for a cannabis empire… it will have more cannabis annually than even the largest companies in the sector…'”

I bet that those comparisons, like most of what Altucher said, has some basis in fact… but that he’s probably comparing the past production of competitors to the future possible production of his selected company. In a fast-changing market like marijuana, where a company might go from producing 10,000kg in one year to 500,000kg two years later, that’s highly misleading.

and…

“Although few marijuana companies have the capacity or the structure to be able to scale out to meet the worldwide demand…

“This tiny company is the exception and has what Business Insider called the…

‘First-mover advantage in becoming the multinationals of cannabis.’

“How’s this possible?

“Again, it all comes down to this company’s unique diversified structure and streaming model…

“As Business Insider continued…

‘Because [this tiny company] is the only company employing the streaming model, it has far and away the best opportunity to meet scaled up capacity and deliver on this huge global market opportunity.'”

Did that “streaming” part stand out for you? It did for me, too, and it means we probably already know the answer… but let’s grab just one more of the quotes the ad pulls:

“… this tiny company is NOT your standard weed company.

“Instead of taking the typical approach of having one or two grow houses supply them with marijuana…

“This group has taken an innovative approach…

“And adopted a royalty method…

“That allows them to not only have multiple streams of product…

“But more importantly… allows them to slash production costs to the bone.

“With an eternal rate of return of 60%…

“The Motley Fool acknowledged:

‘The result of this lucrative business model is that [this tiny company] should have the highest margins among all pot stocks'”

There are a few more clues, too, just to throw a bit of fuel on the fire…

“This massive greenhouse is just one of the sources of weed this company has.

“In fact, to date they’ve established 17 other partnerships around the world to supply them with product, including…

  • A 105,000-square-foot grow house in St. John’s that pumps out 10,560 pounds of weed annually
  • A 27,700-square-foot grow house in Kentville capable of pumping out 2,420 pounds of weed
  • 80,000 square feet in Winnipeg producing 11,000 pounds
  • A massive 210,000-square-foot factory in Flamborough yielding over 2,200 pounds every year….

“All told they’ve got access to over 2 million square feet of grow space…

“And potentially stakes in close to a staggering 926,180 pounds of weed every year.

“Total all that up, and you’re looking at annual sales of up to $2.2 billion!”

And one little sotto voce warning, which I’m sure the lawyers asked him to include…

“Now, of course, with the uniqueness of this play…

“You have to remember position sizing and traditional allocation models to account for any volatility…”

And one more thing: Altucher in recent ads touted a “deadline” that we saw pass yesterday….

“if you want to collect your fair share, you’ve got to be in before September 23 and their first expected shipment.

“Because what we could be about to witness is truly special…

“Just imagine watching this tiny 60-cent company skyrocket and…

“Turn into a massive blue chip company.”

So what is this stock that Altucher says is “The Only Marijuana Stock You’ll Ever Need” and poised to “Make Up to 30,666% Starting September 23?”

This is, sez the Thinkolator, good ol’ Auxly Cannabis (XLY.V, CBWTF)

And yes, of course, in addition to the invented September 23 “deadline,” they also have the silly “countdown clock” on the order form that implies you have to put your credit card in within 15 minutes in order to get your goodies — hurry, don’t stop and think!

Don’t worry, even here on September 24, a day after that deadline, you get that 15 minute countdown and, apparently, they’re happy to still take your money. But no, Auxly did not instantly turn a corner yesterday, either operationally or financially, so you’ve got time to think it over and do your research (I’d be surprised if they generate any big financial news before their next quarter, which should be released in early November, but one never knows).

That “PR Newswire” source was, in fact, a press release that was really a stock promotion paid for by… the company itself, back when it was called Cannabis Wheaton Income (they changed the name a little over a year ago). The promo was rrom May of last year, so roughly a year and a half ago (and before the Canadian legal market actually opened, so the story has changed dramatically since then).

And the “Business Insider” quote? That wasn’t actually from a Business Insider article, it was, again, from a paid stock promotion press release from the company itself that happened to appear on a Business Insider web page… and they’re going even further back here, to September of 2017, when the company was brand new (though the press release is extremely similar to the one above that they issued eight months later).

The Motley Fool article cited about this being the highest margin pot stock? That was indeed real, but it was published back in January of 2018. Here’s what that Fool article said at the time, in part:

“The result of this lucrative business model is that Cannabis Wheaton should have the highest margins among all pot stocksi, and is expecting an internal rate of return of 60% with an average deal. Estimates from the company show a cost of goods sold per gram of around $2, compared to an average selling price of around $6.20 per gram. That’s a coincidentally hilarious EBITDA of around $4.20 per gram sold (“420” being the term in cannabis culture referring to pot consumption).

“The royalty model is also flush with diversification. Cannabis Wheaton has around 15 production deals on its books that are expected to yield a combined 230,000 kilograms of dried cannabis a year by 2019, assuming every one of its partners stays on track. If one or two of these deals doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t mean the Cannabis Wheaton ship sinks. Instead, pot stock investors get the opportunity with a company like this to buy into geographic and production-based diversification.”

The SeekingAlpha quote was from a blog on that site (SeekingAlpha has pretty light editorial control for its official articles anyway, but the blogs have no editorial input or screening), but they made a couple points which sound rational while also ignoring the elephant in the room… here’s a little excerpt:

“If the company executes its business plan, it could become the largest cannabis company in the world.

“Assuming Cannabis Wheaton closes the majority of the streaming deals, it will have more cannabis annually than even the largest companies in the sector, over 400,000 kg per year.

“Despite the potential, Cannabis Wheaton trades at a fraction of the larger companies in the sector due to it’s elevated short-term risk and lack of revenue.”

And…

“Generally speaking, what Wheaton does is provide capital and expertise to get its partners facilities funded, licensed, and producing at full capacity, in exchange for a percentage of all production from the facility/entity at a fixed cost for a period of time. In addition, the company often takes a piece of equity in the facility/entity, along with a seat on the board.”

I’ve written about Auxly Cannabis a few times, including back in 2017 when it was new and being touted by some of the pot newsletters (like Jimmy Mengel in May of 2017, though the last teaser pitch that I saw about this one that was heavily promoted was Matt McCall’s “Royal Gold of Marijuana”), and I’ve been tempted before, mostly because of the notion of “cannabis royalties.” Most of the comments I’ve shared about this stock have been along the lines of, “I love the idea of this business model, but boy, I wish it was a better company and traded at a lower price.”

Here’s what I wrote about them on June 9, 2017 in a Friday File, just FYI — I’ve been going back through the older articles to see what I was thinking at the time (the stock price was just under a dollar then, pretty close to today’s price)…

“The streaming deals they have so far look terrible, honestly — the ones I’ve looked at where they’ve provided some specifics are based not on current economics, but on some hypothetical world where prices rise dramatically for legal marijuana in Canada. That might come, but this is going to be a regulated market that might even have strong price controls, and I suspect a bank wouldn’t lend based on those estimates… a streaming company trying to expand quickly apparently will, and perhaps that’s why the streaming company hasn’t raised the $500 million they need to fulfill their end of the streaming deals they’ve made… and, it seems, is having some trouble raising even a tenth of that amount. Which, in turn, could mean that some of their streaming deals won’t close, because the deals that I saw described in detail were contingent on Cannabis Wheaton raising money.

“I do kind of hope that this one hits a rational price as disenchantment continues, and they did bring in a new executive this week, presumably with some hope of righting the ship and restoring some credibility, but we’ll see — it’s quite possible that they missed their chance now. If you intend to build a long-term successful business, it’s short-sighted to be raising this money with junky convertible debt and warrants when there’s a lot of interest in marijuana equities, they could perhaps have set themselves up for a much healthier business if they had just sold a big slug of equity right away and kept expectations a little more in check… but, of course, that would have driven the price down a bit more, at least in the short term, and it seems to me that many of the marijuana market participants who are starting or listing companies in the public markets seem to be quite enthusiastic about getting their windfall profits quick before the story or sentiment changes. That’s probably a word to the wise for us all: Investors can obsess over share prices and have wild mood swings, but when companies themselves are focused on the short term stock price movement instead of on building a sustainable business, things can get ugly quickly.”

So what has happened since the stock got a flurry of attention in 2017 and 2018 for trying to become the first big “marijuana streaming” company?

Well, they got a lot of flack for borrowing the Wheaton name (they started out calling themselves Cannabis Wheaton Income, then just Cannabis Wheaton), which led to changing the name to Auxly Cannabis in the Summer of 2018… and it wasn’t just a name change, they don’t really throw that “streaming” or “royalty” idea around anymore.

And, of course, the stock soared to about C$2.50 at the peak when everyone was excited in early January of 2018, but has been mostly quite disappointing for investors since then (this year’s it’s been pretty flat for a pot stock, trading right now just in the middle of the range it’s been in all year between 70 cents and a dollar).

And it’s probably good that they abandoned the “royalty” model and decided to try to become a “vertically integrated” cannabis company, regardless of how much I like the royalty business — it just wasn’t working, and the royalty deals I saw all made really aggressive assumptions about how much their partners had to grow production to get Auxly a return… and, at least from my earlier looks at the first deals in 2017, the deals also only really worked out if marijuana prices surged dramatically higher. Which they haven’t, as far as I can tell, and quite possibly they won’t. Agriculture-based streaming deals are difficult in general, and tend not to provide any windfall opportunities like mining or energy royalties sometimes can, and in a market as volatile as marijuana they might just not make any sense at all.

The biggest news out of Auxly lately is their deal with the British tobacco company Imperial Brands (Auxly press release here), owner of the Blu vaping brand (probably the second-biggest US vaping brand behind Juul, bought from RJ Reynolds about five years ago) as well as some legacy cigarette brands (like Winston). Imperial is investing $123 million in Auxly, assuming the deal closes as expected (should be soon), and will get a convertible debenture that gets them 20% of Auxly at an effective 81 cents/share (and a way to back out and be repaid if they decide not to convert after three years). This gives Auxly a licensing deal for any global marijuana products Imperial wants to launch, as well as the license to Imperial’s vaping technology for when vaping products are legalized in Canada… which was expected to be late this year (with the latest vaping health problems, that could presumably change).

Is there really a supply crunch for marijuana? Not that I can see. Canada tracks its market with official statistics, and according to them the legal market sales have been growing considerably less quickly than inventories — for the month of June, the latest one reported, sales of dried cannabis were just under 10,000 kilograms and inventory was over 260,000 kilograms (up from 7,000 and 99,000 back in November, right when legal sales started). Growth in production capacity has been remarkable, and big grow houses are mostly in constant harvest mode (if they planted their pot all at once, they could get three harvests a year… but they stagger plantings for constant production). Cannabis oils are growing sales and inventory at a similar pace, though the market certainly might change later this year when marijuana edibles get legalized and create a new source of demand, but at this point it’s pretty clear that the massive production increases that were made by the first wave of Canadian pot companies have met the legal demand just fine, and arguably exceeded it so far. That might not be the case next year if edibles or vaping take off, I don’t know, but there’s at least a big backlog of flower inventory.

The official statistics don’t yet cover 2018 or 2019 for marijuana prices, but as of 2017 the market for legal medical marijuana had had pretty steady pricing — with prices per gram moving down a few percent from 2010-2017 to $8-10, on average… and the reports in Canada’s first year of recreational legalization are that most legal sellers are selling at pretty close to that price as well. Which means legal pot is not undercutting the black market, which generally offers per-gram pricing about half that of legal sellers. The hope seems to be that the next wave of products (edibles and beverages) and some sort of gradual marketing build and brand-building (if that’s ever allowed) will increase demand… and provide more earnings, since processed products would presumably offer higher profit margins than dried flower.

In the meantime, though, it’s not like all these giant marijuana grow-houses will stop growing, so supply keeps rising. That’s not necessarily a great sign for companies that appear to me to rely on rising wholesale prices and maybe on exports… like, say, Auxly Cannabis.

What will happen in the US as legalization moves forward? I have no idea. The pricing is all over the map, with some states having a massive glut of legal marijuana and some states a shortage of some products as regulators try to manage the market, but right now the Cannabis Benchmarks folks estimate that the US “index” price, which I assume is wholesale, is about $1,500/lb, which would be just over $3 per gram (~450 grams/lb). Presumably growers will keep getting more efficient, and in places where competition is robust the prices will fall and attempts will be made to build demand for “value added” products like edibles and branded edibles, oils or specific strains… but when it comes to basic supply and demand, which is what should matter most to those who produce a commodity agricultural product, it doesn’t look like there’s a huge demand surge that’s creating an imbalance nationally. That could obviously change quickly if the US got federal recreational legalization in some surprise move, which seems unlikely to me in the near term — the US market could make the Canadian market look like a social experiment.

I should be clear that I say all that as a non-expert observer, by the way, and I have not looked at the operations in each state. It is clear, however, that the black market is really enjoying legal marijuana — if it’s legal to buy the stuff at a dispensary, the risk of buying it on the street and holding it or smoking in public seems far lower than it used to be (the risk arguably wasn’t that high anyway, except for folks the police were watching closely for other reasons)… which is a problem for a lot of publicly traded stocks in both the US and Canada. The big enemy of the marijuana companies is not an inability to meet demand, it’s the competition from the lower-priced black market. Maybe the market evolves, I don’t know, certainly there’s some hope that the latest vaping deaths and illnesses, often blamed on black-market vape cartridges that use illegal fillers, will help to push people into the legal market… but lo