Cramer: The bear thesis holds in beer stock Molson Coors, but you can buy it for speculation

  • CNBC's Jim Cramer wants to see "real improvement" in Molson Coors' core business before recommending the stock as a steady investment.
  • For now, investors are welcome to speculate on the beer maker's stock with money they're willing to lose, the "Mad Money" host says.

CNBC's Jim Cramer wants to see cold, hard proof of a turnaround in beer maker Molson Coors' North America business before recommending its stock to investors.

"Molson Coors is definitely getting its act together, but I want to see some signs of real improvement in the core business before I recommend this stock as an investment," Cramer said Monday on "Mad Money." "But if you want to buy Molson Coors purely on speculation that the thing has really turned around? Well, as long as you're prepared to lose a little money, be my guest."

Molson Coors, the parent of Coors, Miller, Blue Moon and an assortment of other beer brands, has been struggling since late 2016 as consumers started to shift from mass-market beers to craft brews. From its 2016 peak to its 2018 trough, Molson Coors' stock lost roughly half of its value.

Layer on the weakness at other beer businesses — see Budweiser parent Anheuser-Busch InBev's dismal third-quarter earnings report — and Molson Coors' fate seemed to be in flux.

But in its third-quarter report, the Keystone parent surprised to the upside, delivering much better-than-expected earnings per share and a 17 percent boost in net income. Molson Coors shares jumped 10 percent on the news.

"Now, the beer business hasn't suddenly turned around, and let's not say that it has. Molson Coors still saw a 1 percent decline in worldwide brand volume with real weakness in North America," Cramer said. "The bear thesis remains the same: maybe Molson Coors has become a better operator, but the fact remains that their core U.S. beer business [is] in trouble."

Brand volumes in the United States, which accounts for more than 68 percent of Molson Coors' revenue according to FactSet, were down 3.3 percent — a sign that the beer maker isn't exactly in the clear, the "Mad Money" host said.

But management's focus on cutting costs, developing higher-end craft beers, growing Molson Coors' international presence and breaking into the cannabis market could form the company's new bull thesis, he argued.

In August, Molson Coors' announced a joint venture with The Hydropothecary Corporation, a low-cost cannabis producer, to create marijuana-infused beverages ahead of the legalization of cannabis-based drinks in Canada, which lifted its ban on recreational weed in October.

"Like Cramer-fave Constellation Brands, Molson Coors is a brewer that understands the scale of the opportunity here, but, of course, this business won't start making money for nearly a year," Cramer said.

Yet, even with management's improved execution and the stock's cheap multiple of 13.3 times next year's earnings estimates, Cramer still worried about Molson Coors' slowing U.S. business.

"I worry that there might not be much room for upside. And while I'm intrigued by the cannabis exposure, it's very small compared to what Constellation Brands has done with its investment in Canopy Growth ... and it'll take a lot longer to pay off," he said. "You've gotta ask yourself: is that enough?"

Molson Coors' stock climbed 2.55 percent on Monday, settling at $66.39 a share.

WATCH: Cramer mulls over Molson Coors' turnaround

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