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Here's the Real Reason Aurora Cannabis Shares Caught Fire Yesterday

George Budwell, The Motley Fool

Aurora Cannabis (NYSE: ACB) keeps rolling out the hits. Yesterday, the Canadian pot magnate announced that billionaire activist investor, Nelson Peltz, had agreed to take on the role of strategic advisor "to explore potential partnerships that would be the optimal strategic fit for successful entry into each of Aurora's contemplated market segments."

This latest announcement comes on the heels of a strong analyst upgrade from investing bank Cowen and the news that the company started shipping high-margin cannabis oils to Germany. The net result is that Aurora's shares are now up by more than 82% since the start of the new year. 

A mature marijuana flower.

Image source: Getty Images.

Why are investors piling into this pot stock? All three of these recent catalysts could be building up to one game-changing event for the company.

What's in store for Aurora?

Aurora has several feathers in its proverbial cap as a cannabis investing vehicle. The company has one of the broadest international footprints, with operations in 24 countries, a top-tier production capacity that may exceed 700,000 kilograms per year at peak, 16 subsidiaries spanning the entirety of the cannabis value chain, as well as a range of strategic partnerships. 

Yet the company is missing something absolutely crucial from a value-creation standpoint: a Fortune 500 level partner capable of putting this jigsaw puzzle together and unlocking Aurora's deeper levels of value.

While Aurora was reportedly flirting with beverage giant Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) late last year, Coke eventually decided to walk away -- citing the industry's outstanding regulatory hurdles as a major barrier to an early entrance.

Meanwhile, Canopy Growth (NYSE: CGC) and Cronos Group (NASDAQ: CRON) both struck partnerships with Fortune 500 companies. In fact, Canopy and Cronos each landed deals that included enormous amounts of up-front cash, as well as sizable equity stakes. Aurora, in kind, has had to continue diluting its shareholders at breakneck pace to fund its aggressive expansion strategy -- a strategy that has so far failed to produce any meaningful form of cost savings or economic moat.

With Peltz coming into the picture, though, Aurora's fortunes could be about to change for the better in a big way. Long story short, Peltz has the ability to possibly bring Coke back to the table -- or perhaps convince PepsiCo (NASDAQ: PEP) that cannabis-infused beverages and snacks are worth the near-term risk. PepsiCo, after all, was also sniffing around the cannabis industry last year in search of potential partners, before ultimately deciding to sit on the fence while the regulatory landscape continues to evolve. 

Is Aurora's stock a buy on this news?

The answer to this question all depends on whether Peltz can attract a multibillion-dollar partnering deal soon. Canopy and Cronos both landed deals with partners that desperately needed to find new avenues of growth, which was a rather unique situation, to put it mildly. 

Fortunately for Aurora, however, Coke and Pepsi could both use a boost from a new product category, such as cannabis-infused drinks or snacks. But Coke and Pepsi have also both expressed concern about the state of the regulatory landscape surrounding cannabis, and neither company is exactly desperate for new growth products at this stage. That's a challenging situation that even Peltz might not be able to overcome. 

Now, Peltz may have other large-cap partners in mind. But there's no obvious name that pops up -- at least one that would be willing to fork over a large up-front payment while simultaneously taking on the significant risk that comes with this inchoate industry. Most deep-pocketed partners, after all, have the financial capacity to sit on the sidelines, as the cannabis industry slowly marches toward worldwide legitimacy. 

Aurora's ability to bring on a top-flight strategic advisor is unquestionably a positive development, but the most important material impacts from this move might not become readily apparent anytime soon. Peltz can't just wave a magic wand and change U.S. federal law around cannabis. And until that seminal event happens, there's no pressing reason for blue chip companies like Coke or PepsiCo to enter the fray.

Investors, in turn, arguably shouldn't buy this pot stock with the notion that a big-time deal is now imminent. The next round of billion-dollar investments will probably have to wait until the U.S. ends prohibition on cannabis and that could take another election cycle to achieve.

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George Budwell has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.