By Max A. Cherney
Cronos confirms early-stage talks with Altria, which was previously reported to be interested in rivals Aphria and Tilray
Marlboro cigarette maker Altria Group Inc. is discussing an investment in marijuana producer Cronos Group Inc., as legacy companies continue to look for ways into the marijuana industry.
Cronos (CRON.T) (CRON.T) confirmed the discussions in a news release Monday evening, saying "it is engaged in discussions concerning a potential investment by Altria Group Inc." Cronos also said that "there can be no assurance such discussions will lead to an investment or other transaction."
The company's statement came hours after a Reuters () report that claimed Cronos was involved in potential acquisition talks with Altria. When asked specifically Monday evening if the discussions could lead to a full sale of Cronos, a Cronos spokesman reiterated that the talks were focused on an investment.
The Reuters report did not specify how much Altria (MO) was willing to pay for Cronos, which closed Monday with a market capitalization of C$2.4 billion, according to FactSet. Altria, which is the parent company of Philip Morris and other cigarette makers, did not respond to a request for comment.
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Shares of Cronos surged as much as 30% in Monday trading (), though gains settled down and the stock closed up 11%. After Cronos confirmed the talks, shares jumped more than 8.7% in after-hours trading.
A little more than a month ago, a report said Altria was in talks with marijuana producer Aphria Inc.(APHA.T) (APHA.T) , which saw shares close down 23.4% Monday after a short seller published a report questioning the company's legitimacy (). The stock dipped another 7% in after-hours trading following Cronos's confirmation of its Altria discussions.
The talks (/) between Altria and Aphria were for a minority stake in the pot company and executives from both companies met in Leamington, Ontario, where Aphria is located, according to a report from The Globe and Mail. At the time, the Canadian newspaper reported that the deal, if closed, would have a similar structure to Constellation Brands Inc.'s (STZ) $4 billion investment in Canopy Growth Corp.(WEED.T) (WEED.T) .
According to a source familiar with the Canadian cannabis sector, there are "a number" of similar deals in the works at the moment. The Financial Times reported () Monday that Altria has also held talks with Tilray Inc. .
The news fits in with reports that show Altria attempting to jump into new smoking categories. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Altria is in discussions with e-cigarette startup Juul Labs Inc. for a minority stake (), though a deal has not been reached.
Beverage companies have been ahead of tobacco companies in targeting the marijuana space. MolsonCoors Brewing Co. (TAP) is pursuing a joint venture with Quebec-based weed producer Hexo Corp. (HEXO.T) and there have been rumors about Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker maker Diageo PLC talking with several Canadian pot companies. (source familiar with the cannabis sector told MarketWatch in the past that a deal with a beverage conglomerate is something of a Holy Grail for Canadian weed makers ( ).
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Hindenburg Research published a scathing note Monday (/) about Aphria's business, calling into question a number of its acquisitions in Latin America -- among other things -- and said, "We are of the strong opinion that Aphria is part of a scheme orchestrated by a network of insiders to divert funds away from shareholders into their own pockets."
Aphria called Hindenberg's note a "malicious and self-serving attempt to profit by manipulating" the company's stock price "at the expense of Aphria's shareholders." The company also said that it paid a fair price for its most recent acquisition in Latin America.
In other pot-stock news, New Age Beverages Corp. (NBEV), announced the acquisition of a beverage company () with international distribution capabilities, Morinda Holdings Inc., and shares gained about 10%. Aurora Cannabis Inc. (ACB.T) (ACB.T) announced ( its gelcap technology has hit the market.
Cronos's stock has rallied 31.6% year to date, while the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (MJ) has lost 10.6% and the S&P 500 index has gained 4.4%.
-Max A. Cherney; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 03, 2018 21:58 ET (02:58 GMT)
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