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Cannabis producer Aphria calls U.S. company’s proposed hostile takeover ‘quite risky’

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Aphria Inc. shares shot up as much as 14 per cent early Friday, before giving up some of their initial gains, as investors responded to an American company’s hostile takeover proposal that valued the Ontario-based cannabis company at $2.8 billion.

Aphria shares were off their early highs at $8.46 after 30 minutes of trading at the Toronto Stock Exchange, up 89 cents from Thursday’s close at $7.57.

The Ohio-based Xanthic Biopharma Inc., which does business as Green Growth Brands, announced after Thursday’s close that its takeover offer valued Xanthic shares at $7 each and Aphria shares at $11 per share.

Aphria responded before markets opened on Friday, saying the actual value of Xanthic shares is substantially lower than the announced offer price and, at current market rates, undervalues the Leamington-based cannabis producer.

In early trading Friday, Xanthic shares fell seven per cent to $4.60, down 38 cents, at the Canadian Securities Exchange. At that price, its offer of 1.5714 Xanthic shares would value Aphria shares at about $7.23.

The newly installed chairman of Aphria’s board said in a statement Friday that “their proposal falls short of rewarding our shareholders for participating in such a transaction.”

“Further, the proposed offer is quite risky given GGB’s condition to complete a brokered financing at a price that is more than double the recent average of their share price, as a key term to the proposal,” said Irwin Simon, who was named chairman of the Aphria board after Green Growth Brands announced its offer Thursday afternoon.

Vic Neufeld, who had been chairman, will remain Aphria’s chief executive officer and a director on Aphria’s board.

Cannabis companies’ shares volatile

Shares of most publicly traded cannabis companies have been volatile over the last few months, including those of Aphria Inc., after its planned acquisition of LATAM Holdings Inc. came under fire in early December.

In early December, short-sellers Quintessential Capital Management and Hindenburg Research alleged that the company’s acquisition of the LATAM Holdings assets in Colombia, Argentina and Jamaica totalling $280 million from Scythian Biosciences were “largely worthless.”

Gabriel Grego, of Quintessential Capital Management, argued Aphria had spent $700 million buying up subsidiaries which don’t add any value to the company and did little besides enriching insiders at the companies that were taken over.

Short-seller Hindenberg levelled fresh criticism Friday, suggesting the proposed takeover may not be hostile at all.

It said Green Growth Brands’ second largest shareholder is a fund sponsored by Green Acre Capital, “a firm that lists none other than Aphria CEO Vic Neufeld on its board of advisors.”

“Aphria has invested directly in the fund and therefore already owns a significant stake in GGB,” the statement said.

Additionally, its statement said Green Growth recently listed a current Aphria board member on its own board of directors, and that other recent Green Growth directors have “obvious affiliations with Aphria.”

Takeover offers that are made directly to shareholders without approval of the target company’s board of directors are considered to be hostile bid. But Green Growth CEO Peter Horvath said Friday that his company would prefer a friendly deal because the proposal hinges on the expertise that each company brings to the table.

“Aphria brings proven cultivation experience and, from what we’ve seen, they’re bringing that in a highly sophisticated and technological way to cannabis,” Horvath said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Horvath also said in a statement Thursday that an acquisition of Aphria would increase value for shareholders of both companies.

“We are confident that the significant premium we are offering and the opportunity to participate in the growth of a stronger, combined company are so compelling that we are taking our offer directly to Aphria’s shareholders,” he said.

But Hindenberg says that’s not the case.

Its statement said Green Growth was just formed this year, has almost no revenue or tangible assets, and has limited operations. “Despite this, its newly listed, thinly traded stock has spiked to a market cap of $890 million on average daily dollar volume of only $1.3 million.”

Hindenberg called Green Growth “largely a worthless entity with numerous signs of Aphria related-party influence.”

“This entire proposed deal strikes us as merely an epic next step of Aphria’s brazen shell game,” the statement said.

Shares of publicly traded companies selling cannabis have been volatile over the last few months. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

Aphria, which has its main operations in the southwestern Ontario community of Leamington, said it has established an independent committee of directors to consider any formal offers it receives.

In the meantime, Aphria said it would continue to execute its current corporate strategy.

“It’s business as usual for us right now,” said John Jacobs Jr., Aphria’s labour director.

Requests for further comment from Aphria’s executive team were declined.

Class-action bid filed

Earlier this month, a Toronto law firm said it filed a proposed class action against Aphria and its chief executive and financial officers after the company was targeted by short-sellers.

Koskie Minsky LLP alleges Aphria made false and misleading statements related to its acquisition of LATAM Holdings, a claim that has not been tested in court.

The proposed class action came after the short-sellers’ allegations.

Aphria said on Dec. 6 that it had set up a special committee of independent directors to review the LATAM acquisition.

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5 ways to pay off a loan faster

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Gaining access to a loan has gotten easier and easier, but borrowers must still navigate a system that offers both good and bad loans. With so many options and hidden clauses, finding the right strategy for paying off a loan faster can seem complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Borrowers can still achieve financial freedom quickly while remaining Zen.

Here are five ways to pay off a loan faster:

1. Increasing the monthly payment

Yes, this is an obvious strategy and might seem difficult to do at first glance. However, you’d be surprised at what you can really do when you use a loan payment calculator to determine how much you’ll save on interest payments if the loan is closed ahead of schedule.

Before calculating the amount to increase the monthly payment, borrowers need to contact their bank to find out:

  • how early repayment takes place;
  • what hidden fees and penalties exist for early repayment;
  • whether it is necessary to write an application;
  • when the payments can be made.

All these factors can significantly affect the final amount due. Often, the contract contains hidden payments and sanctions for early full or partial repayment of the loan. It is less profitable for a bank to allow their client to close a loan or credit account ahead of time. For this reason, many companies resort to all sorts of tricks to prevent clients from paying off their loans early.

2. Finding an additional source of income

Another perhaps overlooked approach to paying off a loan is to simply increase your income. Some options for doing this might include

  • getting a part-time job;
  • working additional shifts;
  • looking for temporary seasonal openings;
  • engaging in a one-time project;
  • selling unnecessary or unused household items.

Whatever the activity, it does not have to be related to the borrower’s main profile and specialization. In spring and summer, unskilled workers are constantly required for cleaning summer cottages, harvesting crops, or pruning bushes. In the winter, it can be tutoring, cleaning apartments, construction and repair work, tailoring, and freelancing.

3. Minimizing expenses

Many borrowers find it impossible to pay off their loans without cutting costs.

So, it is a good idea to analyze your income and expenses, leaving room for only the essentials.

Borrowers need to be as honest as possible with themselves and clearly define what they can temporarily refuse in favor of quick loan repayment.

During this period, borrowers should avoid unnecessary expenses or online shopping, and develop a rational but economical meal plan.

Cutting costs should also include getting rid of expensive habits like alcohol, cigarettes, morning lattes on the way to work, lunch with employees in a cafe, or Friday evenings out with friends. However, borrowers should have in mind that these are only temporary harsh measures to shorten the loan term that will help them get out of debt.

4. Rounding up the Payments

Rounding up the payments is an interesting strategy to reduce the time it will take to pay off the loan. For example, a borrower owing $425 a month can decide to be paying $500 a month. This little commitment adds up to an extra 75$ in repayment every month. Over time, that adds up to a significant amount, saving interest payments and getting the borrowers out of debt ahead of schedule.

5. Speeding up the loan repayment

Another clever strategy is to make a bi-weekly payment rather than just one monthly payment. Which is better: paying $1000 per month or $500 every two weeks? The second strategy wins.

To really speed up the loan repayment, borrowers could divide their monthly payment in half and pay that amount every two weeks. This means making 26 half-payments in one year, which is the equivalent of a whole additional monthly payment. This 13th payment is called the accelerator. It allows borrowers to pay off their loans faster.

The bottom line

Paying off the loan faster decreases the overall term of the loan and helps borrowers get out of debt ahead of schedule.

In addition to adopting the strategies above, borrowers may be able to help themselves by adopting good financial habits that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Borrowers who spend less than what they earn can reduce their debt and even start saving for other projects. They can do this by revising their monthly budget. This allows them to control their game plan and quickly see where they need to adjust.

These good habits will not only help people take control of their debt, but also take control of their general finances.

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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert

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Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards

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The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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