U.S. Markets closed

Better Buy: Aphria vs. Constellation Brands

Keith Speights, The Motley Fool

On paper, the choice between Aphria (NYSE: APHA) and Constellation Brands (NYSE: STZ) appears to be an easy one. Constellation Brands is bigger, more profitable, and even pays a dividend. But those current statistics that work to Constellation's advantage don't reveal growth prospects. It's possible that Aphria could beat Constellation on the growth front.

Which stock is the better pick for long-term investors? Here's what you need to know about how Aphria and Constellation Brands compare.

Giant marijuana leaf in a shopping cart.

Image source: Getty Images.

The case for Aphria

Exhibit A in the case for Aphria is the potential for the global cannabis market to expand significantly. Estimates for just how big that market could grow are all over the map. But it doesn't seem too far-fetched to envision a $100 billion global cannabis market by the end of the next decade.

If you accept the premise that this market will indeed become much larger, the next question is whether or not Aphria can be a major player on the world stage. The answer to that question appears to be "yes."

One important prerequisite to competing in the cannabis market is production capacity. Aphria is on track to produce 255,000 kilograms of cannabis on an annualized basis, ranking it third overall among cannabis producers in terms of capacity.

Aphria already belongs to the top tier of cannabis producers in Canada based on sales in the country's medical cannabis and adult-use recreational cannabis markets. The company is one of only four licensed producers with supply agreements with every Canadian province for their recreational markets.

The real prize, though, is in international markets. Aphria is a leader in the important German market and was one of three companies awarded a license to cultivate medical cannabis in the country. It's one of seven companies with licenses to import medical cannabis into Italy. Aphria also owns a high-capacity GMP-certified lab in Malta that processes and manufactures medical cannabis and cannabis derivative products.

Outside of Europe, Aphria has operations in Latin America that allow it to reach the medical cannabis markets in Argentina, Colombia, and Jamaica. The company has a joint venture and offtake agreement in Lesotho with Verve Dynamics. Aphria also owns a 25% stake in Australian cannabis producer Althea.

Aphria's valuation looks attractive relative to its peers, especially considering its capacity and extensive international operations. The company thinks that it can generate revenue of around 1 billion Canadian dollars (around $760 million) by the end of 2020. With Aphria's current market cap at a little over $1.5 billion, the stock could be a bargain right now if that goal is achieved.

The case for Constellation Brands

There are at least two key arguments for why investors should consider buying Constellation Brands stock. Probably the most important one is the company's continued dominance in the U.S. premium beer market.

Sales for Constellation's Corona and Modelo premium beer brands are trouncing the competition. The company should have more room for solid growth with its beers. Constellation's potential growth drivers in this market include a continued shift of beer drinkers to premium beers and favorable demographic trends with more millennial and Hispanic customers.

The company's wine and spirits business hasn't been as successful recently. However, Constellation is selling over 30 of its lower-priced wine brands to E. & J. Gallo for $1.7 billion. This move will allow Constellation to focus on its "power brands strategy" -- putting its efforts behind building several brands that are generating strong sales growth.

Constellation also should benefit from growth in the global cannabis industry thanks to its 38% stake in Canopy Growth. Canopy's performance hurt Constellation's financial results in the last quarter. However, it's likely that Canopy Growth's next CEO will be much more focused on setting the company on a path to profitability.

If the cannabis market rapidly expands anywhere close to what many expect, Constellation's bet on Canopy Growth will pay off handsomely. The alcoholic beverage maker also owns warrants that would allow it to buy a majority stake in Canopy Growth over the next few years.

In addition to its growth prospects in beer, wine and spirits, and cannabis, Constellation Brands offers another nice plus to investors: a solid dividend. The company's dividend yield currently stands at 1.5%.

Better buy

In my view, Aphria could be a diamond in the rough among cannabis stocks. I think that many investors are overlooking the positives for Aphria.

However, if I had to pick only one of these two stocks, it would be Constellation Brands. It's simply a safer choice over Aphria because of its commanding position in the premium beer market. And Constellation offers investors a way to profit from the potential growth in the cannabis industry, just as Aphria does.

Sometimes the obvious pick isn't the best pick. But in this case, I think that Constellation Brands is the best choice on paper and in the real world.

More From The Motley Fool

Keith Speights has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Constellation Brands. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.