Cannabis stocks boosted by Aurora's acquisition of Uruguay-based ICC Labs – MarketWatch

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Cannabis stocks rallied across the board on Monday, buoyed by news of the latest deal in the sector and excitement ahead of full legalization of the substance in Canada on Oct. 17.

Earlier, Aurora Cannabis Inc. ACBFF, +1.29%  said it has reached a deal to acquire Montevideo, Uruguay-based ICC Labs Inc. for about $290 million. ICC currently controls about 70% of the market in Uruguay, which was the first country in the world to legalize cannabis for adult consumer use. The company also has licenses to produce medical marijuana in Colombia.

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“Uruguay is the only country where regulations currently permit the cultivation of CBD-rich hemp on a commercial scale, allowing licensed producers to grow hemp with THC concentrations of up to 1%, providing a significant yield advantage over global competitors,” Aurora said in a release.

Chief Executive Terry Booth said the company is expecting to enjoy first-mover advantage in a continent with more than 420 million people. ICC says it is aiming to become the leading producer of CBD extracts globally, referring to cannabinoids, the molecules in marijuana that produce effects in the human body, such as Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD.

Pi Financial said the move is a positive for Aurora. “This acquisition provides ACB with a strong presence in South America which has global opportunities,” analyst Jason Zandberg wrote in a note. “Many Canadian LPs have made investments internationally but ICC Labs management not only have an operating history but have high level connections to many Latin American countries which have already translated into supply agreements (Mexico, Brazil for example).”

Zandberg raised his stock price target to $15 from $13, or 86% above its current trading level.

Elsewhere, investors are expecting the big tobacco companies to make a move on the weed market, following comments to that effect from senior executives at Altria Inc. MO, -0.38%  last week. Altria is the owner of Philip Morris USA, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

So far, while beverages companies have been entering the growing weed market, tobacco has remained on the sidelines. But as MarketWatch columnist Nigam Arora notes in a Monday column, tobacco companies are facing declining sales and backlash against the health risks of smoking, while cannabis is increasingly being touted for its health and medical benefits.

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The big companies may be awaiting clarity from the current administration of President Donald Trump on the legal status of cannabis products. The substance is still a Schedule I drug at the federal level, putting it in the same category as heroin and cocaine. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a known opponent of cannabis legalization and has showed few signs of easing regulations.

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Aurora shares rose 1.1%. Other Canadian rivals Valens GroWorks Corp. MYMSF, +18.42%  rallied 19% and Tilray Inc. TLRY, +10.93%  rose 15%. Cronos Group Inc. CRON, +1.17%  was up 1.5%, Canopy Growth Corp. CGC, +1.71%  was up 2%.

Among U.S.-based stocks, Nevada-based Cannabis Sativa Inc. CBDS, +12.75% rallied 11%, while shares of Colorado-based farmer GrowGeneration Corp. GRWG, +2.27% jumped 5%. Ianthus Capital Holdings Inc. ITHUF, +8.77% which owns cannabis cultivators, processors and dispensaries across the U.S., soared 10%.

The Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index ETF HMMJ, +3.10% which tracks more than 20 cannabis companies in North America and trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange, was up 3% and has gained 23% in 2018.

The S&P 500 SPX, +0.28%  has gained 7% in 2018, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.08%  has gained 5%.