Aphria shares dive as investment firm hits back at short-sellers’ claims

TORONTO — Shares of Aphria Inc. continued to dive for a third consecutive day after a short-sellers’ report called its recent international acquisitions “largely worthless,” while the Toronto investment company at the centre of the allegations defended its actions.

The Leamington, Ont.-based pot producer’s stock was down as much as 20 per cent in early afternoon trading Wednesday as it hit $4.76 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, from its previous close of $5.99 in the wake of a short-sellers’ report that called Aphria a “black hole for shareholders.”’

Aphria’s stock closed at $5 on Wednesday, marking a 52 per cent drop from its closing price of $10.51 on Friday.

Aphria’s stock rout began on Monday when Quintessential Capital Management and Hindenburg Research alleged in a lengthy report that the cannabis grower’s recent acquisition of assets in Colombia, Argentina and Jamaica totalling $280 million from Scythian Biosciences were “largely worthless.”

The short-sellers also alleged that “Aphria is part of a scheme orchestrated by a network of insiders to divert funds away from shareholders into their own pockets.”

On Wednesday, Scythian, now called SOL Global Investments Corp., said it is “satisfied with the outcome of the transaction.”

“The transaction — as with all transactions of this size — was thoroughly reviewed by both parties, each of which employed qualified and reputable financial analysts and prominent law firms to review the terms of the deal,” SOL said in a statement.

It said it plans on forming a special board committee and engage independent counsel to review the short-sellers’ allegations and “pursue all available legal relief.”

Meanwhile, Aphria has called the short-sellers’ allegations “false and defamatory.”

The allegations, which have not been independently verified, include accusations that the official registered office of the Marigold Projects Jamaica Limited which Aphria acquired from SOL was a recently-sold abandoned building.

Quintessential and Hindenburg also said Aphria’s $50-million ABP acquisition in Argentina had claimed sales of US$11-million in 2017 but allege that the annual revenue was only US$430,000, according to a worker.

Aphria, one of the largest cannabis producers in Canada, on Tuesday said it stands by its Latin American operations. It added that Aphria’s chief executive Vic Neufeld and other members of its executive team personally bought a total of more than $3.1 million in Aphria shares on Monday as a demonstration of confidence in the company.

Quintessential and Hindenburg responded on Tuesday saying Aphria’s recent statements “did nothing to dispute our core findings.”

Analysts at BMO Capital Markets have slashed their target price for Aphria to $9 from $22, while analysts at GMP Securities have put its rating and target under review until there is more “visibility.”

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