After a fourfold increase in shares of Cronos Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:CRON), the stock is in danger of profit-taking. At some point, shareholders and speculators alike may want to lock in the gains, because the fundamentals have yet to justify the stock’s valuation. Short-selling the stock may not make much sense because cannabis firms are attracting more than enough liquidity. As long as there are buyers, the stock could still jump higher despite years of unprofitability.
Unprofitable Market, For Now Source: Shutterstock
It could take years before hemp is a profitable business. This alone is not a reason to avoid CRON stock since losses just mean the operating costs to expand the business exceeds the revenue. While operating profitability looks good, it still fell. Gross margin in the third quarter was 55%, down from 65% year over year. This is due to a drop in average selling price and higher unit cost of sale for the third quarter.
Cronos is building new production facilities, though increased production will not be realized in the near-term. This added to the operating expenses, which increased to $7 million, up from $4.9 million last year. Staff hiring also added to costs as the firm filled procurement, IT, sales and marketing and professional and consulting roles.
For the third quarter, Cronos lost $7 million, compared to its $1.1 million in income last year.
Modestly Good Balance Sheet
With a $3.72 billion market capitalization, Cronos’ $73 million cash balance total appears small. $44 million of the total is cash, while $29 million is borrowed funds received through a construction loan. Cash flow is also modest at $12.6 million, although it is an increase over the $2.2 million from last year’s operating activities.
Altria Is the Single Biggest Catalyst to Cron Stock Price
With all of the absolute value of the company’s quarterly results, why is the market willing to bid CRON stock higher since December? Altria Group (NYSE:MO) and Cronos announced on Dec. 7, 2018, that the former would invest a massive $1.8 billion. This commitment is impressive. Prior to this deal, Constellation Brands, Inc. (NYSE:STZ) committed to $4 billion in its investment in Canopy Growth (NASDAQ:CGC) on Nov. 1, 2018. Prior to the Altria deal, CRON stock had peaked at just over $14 and bottomed at close to $6 a share. The investment effectively wiped out the short-sellers.
The CRON bears are still holding their bet against the company with the short float at 13.73%.
Fundamental Catalysts Ahead
Altria’s 45% ownership in Cronos gives Cronos $1.8 billion in liquidity. Management may now enter various joint ventures that will enhance long-term value for Cronos shareholders. Its COVE brand in Ontario could benefit from higher sales and marketing spend. The company aimed to capture the top 15% of the market, but now has the cash on hand to take an even bigger market share. At the product level, Cronos may develop its product quality and branding before it launches. Still, Cronos’ important R&D partnership with Ginkgo for producing culture cannabinoids at commercial scale should do well. Ginkgo is a well-established brand and has a good reputation with its customers. By using a fermentation method, Cronos and Ginkgo may potentially cut the cost of cannabinoid production.
Investors should not weigh the positive catalysts without first considering the risks. A new excise tax applied to medicinal and recreational sales hurt Cronos’ ASP (average selling price). In the third quarter, ASP fell by $1, to $7 a gram, when the company absorbed the tax instead of passing it on the consumer.
My Takeaway on CRON Stock
The spectacular rise in shares of Cronos will have shareholders wondering if gains should get booked now. So long as markets continue to rebound, Cronos stock may not fall. If the company puts the cash to good use and the manufacturing facilities come online, revenue will grow.
Until then, shareholders will have to wait patiently for those strong revenue numbers to come in.
Disclosure: As of this writing, Chris Lau did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.