Marlboro invests in Toronto-based cannabis giant Cronos Group

La Marlboro investe in Cronos Group, gigante della Cannabis di Toronto

Marlboro invests in Toronto-based cannabis giant Cronos Group

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Andrea Batticani : ✍🏼

Marlboro cigarette maker Altria is diving into the Canadian cannabis market with a $2.4 billion investment in Toronto-based medical and recreational marijuana supplier Cronos Group .

The Virginia-based parent company behind Marlboro, Parliament and other cigarette brands will take a 45% stake in Cronos with the initial investment announced Friday.

Altria could invest an additional $1.4 billion within four years, increasing its ownership stake to 55%, under the deal.

“Altria brings complementary scale, expertise and capabilities ... that we believe will allow us to expand the reach and improve the scalability of our company,” said Mike Gorenstein , president and CEO of Cronos, on a call with analysts Friday. Cronos will remain a Canadian company, based in Toronto, Gorenstein said.

As part of the agreement, Altria will have the right to appoint four directors to Cronos' board of directors, which will be expanded from five to seven members.

Altria's investment in Cronos as an exclusive partner in the emerging global cannabis market represents an "exciting new growth opportunity" for the company, said its president and CEO Howard Willard .

“We believe Cronos Group's excellent management team has developed the capabilities needed to compete globally and we look forward to helping Cronos Group realize its significant growth potential,” he said in a statement.

Cronos shares soar

Cronos shares increased by up to 33% , or from $13.98 on Thursday to $18.56 on Friday on the Toronto stock exchange, then closing at $17.06 (+22%).

On October 17, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Several U.S. states have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, but weed remains illegal under federal law.

However, the political climate south of the border is heating up on that topic. Indeed, during the US midterm elections , Michigan became the latest state to approve the legalization of recreational cannabis, and Utah and Missouri approved the drug for medical purposes.

Additionally, the number of countries that have legalized medical cannabis continues to grow, with South Korea among the latest to give the green light.

Marlboro's $2.4 billion bet on Cronos is by far the biggest move by Big Tobacco in cannabis, and bodes well for the industry overall, said Martin Landry , an analyst at GMP Securities.

“When you look at the commitment that Altria has made, they're obviously looking at the industry for the next 10 to 20 years seeing great growth,” he said in an interview.

The deal is a "great support" for Cronos and is "reassuring" for the industry, despite becoming too high for these types of companies, Landry said.

Many stocks in the volatile sector rose Friday after the deal was announced. Shares of Toronto-based pot producer Canopy Growth Corp. rose more than 2% in afternoon trading alone. Aurora Cannabis stock rose about 8% Friday afternoon after announcing a new supply deal in Mexico.

However, the global cannabis opportunity remains “large and untapped,” said Vivien Azer , an analyst at Cowen. The Altria-Cronos deal is "encouraging" given the broad potential uses of cannabis, such as in pharmaceuticals and health and wellness products, it said in a note to clients.

The Beverage sector is also stepping up

In August, alcohol giant Constellation Brands announced it would invest an additional $5 billion in Canadian producer Canopy Growth Corp., increasing its stake to 38%. As part of the deal, Constellation also received new warrants that, combined with existing ones, would increase its ownership in Canopy above 50%.

Additionally, U.S. tobacco player Alliance One International said its subsidiary acquired a 75% equity stake in Charlottetown-based Canada's Island Garden in January.

Meanwhile, Molson Coors launched a joint venture called Truss with Canadian cannabis producer Hexo Corp. in October.

Cronos said it will use the capital to accelerate global growth and expansion as well as research and development, saying the Altria deal does not limit Cronos to any other partnerships.

Gorenstein said Altria has "decades of regulatory, government affairs, compliance, product development and brand management experience that we expect to leverage, particularly as new markets for cannabis open around the world" .

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