The marijuana industry is chock-full of explosive growth stocks. What it's not yet known for, however, is high-yield dividend stocks.
This is to be expected, as the marijuana market is still in its nascent stages. Most cannabis companies are not yet profitable, and those that are typically need to reinvest their profits to fund their expansion initiatives. Thus, there aren't many marijuana-related businesses that have enough cash to pay dividends to investors.
But one company, Altria (NYSE: MO), currently offers investors one of the highest yields available not just among cannabis stocks, but among all stocks.
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Altria is best known for its tobacco business and rightfully so; smokeable and smokeless tobacco products accounted for more than 95% of the company's revenue in 2018. Yet with its traditional cigarette business under pressure from falling smoking rates in the U.S., Altria is expanding aggressively into new, higher growth markets. And few industries are growing faster than marijuana.
In December, Altria made the bold move to invest $1.8 billion in exchange for a 45% stake in Canadian cannabis producer Cronos Group (NASDAQ: CRON). Now flush with cash -- and with Altria's regulatory and distribution expertise behind it -- Cronos is well-positioned to expand its share of a global cannabis industry that could generate $200 billion in annual sales by 2029, according to investment bank Stifel.
Cronos is likely to use its newfound growth capital to boost its marijuana production and expand its international operations. The company could also bolster its research and development efforts to better diversify its product lineup. Such products could potentially include cannabis extracts for vape devices made by Juul, the electronic cigarette leader that Altria acquired a 35% stake in for $12.8 billion in December.
Altria's first investment in marijuana may not be its last
Better still, as part of its investment in Cronos, Altria received warrants giving it the right to increase its stake in the marijuana producer to 55% in the future. Should Altria choose to do so, it would obtain majority control of Cronos, which could make it easier for Altria to acquire Cronos Group outright.
Even after Altria's investment, Cronos Group's market capitalization currently checks in at around $5 billion. That makes it relatively easy for Altria to purchase the rest of its shares, even at a sizable premium to where they trade now. Altria generated more than $8 billion in free cash flow in 2018 alone. Even after accounting for its hefty dividend payments, Altria could potentially acquire Cronos Group at a price representing just a few years worth of its dividend-adjusted cash production.
A high, but well-secured, dividend yield
All told, Altria's dividend payments account for only about 66% of its free cash flow generation. Shareholders can sleep well knowing the tobacco titan's dividend is well covered and unlikely to be reduced anytime in the near future. In fact, Altria has raised its dividend 53 times in the past 49 years. And with its investments in marijuana likely to fuel its growth in the future, investors can expect even more increases in Altria's cash payout in the years ahead.
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