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3 Top Marijuana Stocks to Watch in March

Keith Speights, George Budwell, and Sean Williams, The Motley Fool

Some things you watch because you like them. College basketball is a good example of this for many. Other things you watch because you're fascinated by the drama -- like watching a car race to see who crashes. 

When we asked three Motley Fool contributors to pick marijuana stocks to watch in March, we got examples of stocks to like and ones that could crash. Our contributors identified Aphria (NYSE: APHA), Cronos Group (NASDAQ: CRON), and Tilray (NASDAQ: TLRY) as top marijuana stocks to watch this month. Here's why these three stood out.

Three marijuana leaves

Image source: Getty Images.

Bouncing back

Keith Speights (Aphria): If there has ever been a horrible, no-good, rotten, stinking quarter, Aphria had one in the fourth quarter of 2018. The company came under attack from short-sellers who alleged that Aphria had grossly overpaid for its acquisition of LATAM Holdings, lining the pockets of key insiders along the way. Its stock plunged 59% during Q4.

But Aphria is bouncing back now. It certainly helped that a special committee of independent directors on Aphria's board completed a review that found the company had not paid too much for LATAM Holdings. Even better, the board is making several changes to improve Aphria's governance and hopefully avoid similar allegations in the future.

Before the special committee completed its review, Aphria announced that Vic Neufeld was stepping down as CEO. Neufeld denied that his departure was related to the LATAM controversy. However, his exit should help the company move past the scandal. It is looking for Neufeld's permanent replacement, with former chairman Irwin Simon as interim CEO.

I think that Aphria is a key marijuana stock to watch in March for several reasons. It appears to be headed in the right direction after the recent scandal. The company should provide its next quarterly update in April -- and I wouldn't be surprised if the stock climbs before then in anticipation of those results. There's also some lingering intrigue over Green Growth Brands' hostile takeover attempt that was rebuffed by Aphria's board. Green Growth could still try to convince Aphria shareholders to tender their shares, though.

Aphria looks like a bargain compared with several of its peers. With the recent approval for its Aphria One facility expansion, the company could enjoy a much better year than it had in 2018.

The most overvalued pot stock is set to report its quarterly results 

Sean Williams (Cronos Group): Possibly the most exciting pot stock to monitor in March is Wall Street darling Cronos Group, which is set to report its latest quarterly operating results on March 26. This report will include sales in the post-legalization environment, which kicked off on Oct. 17 in Canada.

However, I don't think investors should be eyeing Cronos Group and expecting blowout sales figures or a surprise profit. Rather, I believe the most overvalued marijuana stock may finally have its day of reckoning.

Without question, Cronos Group landed itself a catch when tobacco giant Altria announced a $1.8 billion equity investment in the company (roughly a 45% stake) in early December. The upcoming earnings report will hopefully shed light on specific guidance on how the two companies will work together, and what Cronos plans to do with its newfound cash pile. 

However, Cronos is going to have a tough time maintaining its high valuation if it's only able to produce around 120,000 kilograms of cannabis at its peak. The company's joint venture project with a group of investors (Cronos GrowCo) should be complete by midyear, and will provide 70,000 kilos of peak production perhaps as soon as next year. Meanwhile, Peace Naturals' capacity will allow for another 40,000 kilos of production. But at roughly 120,000 kilos of peak production (this figure includes overseas and smaller domestic grow farms), Cronos may only slot in as the seventh-largest producer. Investors can purchase a few other growers capable of more than 100,000 kilos of peak annual output for less than a fifth of Cronos' post-deal-closing market cap.

I'll also be looking for another pretty sizable quarterly loss from Cronos, at least on an operating basis. With the exception of Peace Naturals and a small grow site at Original BC, it's simply not able to deliver much to the recreational market. Cronos' late start to capacity expansion may wind up costing it long-term supply deals and a steady stream of cash flow.

Needless to say, March is going to be an interesting month, and I'm expecting a dose of reality to finally be injected into Cronos Group's overinflated stock.

A canary in the coal mine 

George Budwell (Tilray): Tilray, one of the largest Canadian cannabis companies by market capitalization, has been among the few top-tier pot stocks to fail to take flight this year. In fact, the company's shares have essentially traded sideways during the first 10 weeks of the new year, despite its closest peers -- Aphria, Aurora Cannabis, Canopy Growth, and Cronos Group -- all posting otherworldly gains during this period.

APHA Chart

APHA data by YCharts.

Tilray's counterflow trading pattern is worth keeping a close eye on for one clear reason. Tilray is, without question, the canary in the coal mine when it comes to judging the market's sentiment toward pot stocks in general. As proof, Tilray still sports one of the highest valuations in the industry -- even though the company's competitive moat is among the weakest within its immediate peer group. Management's decision to focus heavily on medical products is also a questionable proposition at best. 

Point blank, the company's sky-high valuation simply doesn't make any sense from a fundamental viewpoint -- strongly implying that this pot stock could be among the first to plummet once investor sentiment changes direction. Keeping with this theme, investment banker Jefferies noted earlier this month that Tilray's competitive positioning in the emerging cannabis space is "arguably inferior" to its peers and that its premium valuation is hard to justify as a result.

The take-home point is that Tilray's stock should provide investors with a reliable way to gauge the market's overarching view toward pot stocks. Eventually, its love affair with cannabis stocks will come to an end, and investors won't want to be caught off guard when this inevitable sea change happens.  

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George Budwell has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Keith Speights has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Sean Williams has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Jefferies Financial Group Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.