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Citron Slams Aurora Cannabis; Company Says It Won't 'Lose Any Sleep On Amateurish Attack'

January 3, 2018 1:45 pm
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This story was updated at 5:43 p.m. ET.

After a 545-percent run the last three months, AURORA CANNABIS IN (OTC:ACBFF) is running on fumes, according to Citron Research.

Short-seller Andrew Left warned investors in a Wednesday short thesis that the $10.80 stock is likely to concede 50 percent “when sanity sets in.”

“You must be high to be buying Aurora, which sports Enron type accounting and is the weakest player in the space,” Left tweeted at 12:39 p.m. ET.

Aurora Cannabis announced Tuesday it sold cannabis worth $2.5 million in November, its highest ever.

By Left's assessment, the firm has no path to profitability even without the burden of taxes and distribution, and its financing structure betrays weakness in the underlying business model.

He also expressed concerns over:

  • Its lack of intellectual property and dependence on the products of other licensed producers;
  • “irresponsible” capital allocation seen in its $600 million Cannimed acquisition amid weakening barriers to entry;
  • and its self-dealings and insider sales.

Left assured that the critique is exclusive to Aurora and isn't a commentary on the broader cannabis industry. Recreational cannabis became legal in California Jan. 1; Canada is set to legalize the sale of recreational cannabis by July.

At time of publication, Aurora was trading up 16.5 percent at $11.05.

Aurora’s Rebuttal

Aurora rejected all claims. “This guy has no clue what he’s talking about,” Executive Vice President Cam Battley told Benzinga in a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon.

In response to the profitability remark, Battley referenced the firm’s relative youth.

“We’ve been operating commercially for less than two years, so I’m sorry if he’s angry that we’re not profitable,” he said, asserting cash in excess of $320 million and marketable securities worth $180 million.

Aurora has committed capital to strategic acquisitions and partnerships to expand its presence through Canada, Europe and Australia, capitalizing on the regulated latency of U.S. rivals.

“We have very purposely established a remarkable warchest,” Battley said.

The company’s $40 million investment in Radient Technologies, Hempco and Cann Group is now worth $180 million. It recently secured Canadian licensing for the formerly bankrupt Peloton Pharmaceuticals, which it purchased for $7 million, and it’s leveraging its recently acquired Pedanios, Europe’s largest medical cannabis distributor, to establish roots in the yet-developing European market. That $23 million deal is expected to pay off as Italy, Poland and other countries legalize marijuana use.

Battley asserted an additional path to profitability as Aurora launches operations at its third and fourth facilities in the middle of 2018. Aurora claims the third highest quarterly revenue in the sector, with the fourth quarter’s $8.25 million representing 39-percent sequential revenue growth, and it expects to boast the industry’s second highest revenue by next quarter.

Regarding Left’s claims about intellectual property, Battley said the concept doesn't apply to the cannabis industry, as plants can't be patented. “Nobody has any proprietary strains,” he said.

Battley defended the firm’s financing as having a structure standard to Canaccord and claimed accounting practices consistent with IFRS, which requires all companies to report biological assets at the end of each quarter.

Any insider sales, he said, are unrelated to waning confidence and are instead attributable to a simple interest in profit-taking as the stock soars.

"What this is is an opportunistic run at a stock that has been rising and outperforming, nothing more," Battley said. "Hasn’t done his due diligence, doesn't understand the cannabis sector at all, and certainly doesn’t know anything about Aurora, and we are not going to lose any sleep based on an amateurish attack like this."

The stock closed at $11.31, up 19.3 percent.

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