Aurora Cannabis pops nearly 14% after billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz joins as an advisor

Key Points
  • Aurora Cannabis announces that it's appointed longtime activist investor and Trian Partners founder Nelson Peltz as a strategic advisor.
  • The company says it has granted Peltz options to purchase nearly 20 million Aurora shares.
  • Aurora stock spikes following the announcement.
Aurora Cannabis chair talks Peltz appointment and the future of the cannabis industry
Aurora Cannabis chair talks Peltz appointment and the future of the cannabis industry

Aurora Cannabis announced Wednesday that it has appointed longtime activist investor Nelson Peltz as a strategic advisor.

Peltz will "work collaboratively and strategically to explore potential partnerships that would be the optimal strategic fit for successful entry into each of Aurora's contemplated market segments," Aurora said in a press release.

Aurora shares closed up 13.94 percent Wednesday following the release, its best day of trading since September. The company added that it has granted Peltz options to purchase 19.96 million common Aurora shares at a price of 10.34 Canadian dollars ($7.74). If he exercised the options, he would be the company's second-largest shareholder.

Aurora cannabis soars as Nelson Peltz joins in advisor role
Aurora cannabis soars as Nelson Peltz joins in advisor role

"I believe Aurora has a solid execution track record, is strongly differentiated from its peers, has achieved integration throughout the value chain and is poised to go to the next level across a range of industry verticals," Peltz said in the release.

"I also believe that Canadian licensed producers, and Aurora in particular, are well positioned to lead in the development of the international cannabis industry as regulations evolve, with a strong, globally replicable operating model."

The addition of Peltz to the Aurora team represents one of the largest endorsements of the nascent cannabis industry.

Peltz, who founded and serves as CEO of New York-based Trian Partners, has over the decades commanded respect across Wall Street for his investing prowess and ability to reshape companies. As an activist investor, Peltz and Trian Partners take stakes in public companies they believe are undervalued and push management to make changes over several years.

But Peltz will also prove a valuable addition to Aurora for his deep knowledge of the consumer goods industry, where he's tended to focus his investments. Current investments for the multibillion-dollar fund include a $3.6 billion stake in Procter & Gamble, an $884 million stake in packaged foods giant Mondelez and a longtime, $471 million investment in Wendy's.

Trian also held shares in PepsiCo until 2016, when the activist investor ultimately dissolved its $2 billion stake after three years of deliberations with management.

"We see a number of potential of growth areas, certainly consumer packaged goods," Michael Singer, Aurora's executive chairman, said Wednesday on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "The beverage industry, cosmetics, wellness; we see pharmaceuticals now starting to show interest in our space. There are a number of what we call market segments that we expect to operate in with one or many of these potential partners."

The addition of the high-profile advisor increase the odds of additional strategic partnerships and is sufficient reason to upgrade Aurora's stock rating to buy, GMP Securities analyst Martin Landry told clients Wednesday. The analyst nearly tripled his price target on the company to CA$15 from CA$5.50.

"Trian has been involved with a number of consumer packaged goods companies such as PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple, Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods, Heinz, Mondelez, among others," Landry wrote. "We believe he could be instrumental in facilitating discussions with large consumer packaged goods companies."

Founded in 2006 by CEO Terry Booth, Edmonton, Alberta-based Aurora is one of the world's largest cannabis producers. Second in market capitalization only to Ontario-based Canopy Growth, Aurora has built revenues and earnings at a dizzying pace in recent years as more jurisdictions approve the adult use of recreational marijuana.

Employees tend to marijuana plants at the Aurora Cannabis Inc. facility in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, March 6, 2018.
Jason Franson  | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Last month, the company said net sales grew by 363 percent on a year-over-year basis and added that it increased kilograms sold in its second fiscal quarter to 6,999, up 162 percent from a year earlier.

But for Aurora and its peers, the addition of a renowned investor — or a celebrity like Martha Stewart, who recently partnered with Canopy Growth — will help continue to normalize an industry long pursued by global law enforcement.

"Nelson also takes a long-term view of value creation to benefit all stakeholders," Booth said Wednesday. "We look forward to working with Nelson to further extend our global cannabis industry leadership by aligning Aurora with each of the major market segments cannabis is set to impact."

Aurora shares are up more than 82 percent in 2019 and 25 percent in the past month, buoyed after leading cannabis analyst Vivien Azer initiated coverage on the stock with the equivalent of a buy rating.

"Aurora is well positioned to benefit in the early innings of the Canadian adult use market, given its impressive 20 percent market share," the Cowen analyst wrote earlier this month. "The company's large cultivation footprint, capable of producing over 575,000 kilograms, provides Aurora with the necessary infrastructure to weather early storms in adult use."

On Oct. 17, Canada became the first Group of Seven country to allow recreational use of pot. Marijuana remains illegal on a federal level in the United States, but 10 states and the District of Columbia have allowed its use for recreational purposes.

Aurora stock trades under the ticker ACB on both the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange.