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Even when a business is losing money, it’s possible for shareholders to make money if they buy a good business at the right price. For example, biotech and mining exploration companies often lose money for years before finding success with a new treatment or mineral discovery. But while the successes are well known, investors should not ignore the very many unprofitable companies that simply burn through all their cash and collapse.

So, the natural question for NuCana (NASDAQ:NCNA) shareholders is whether they should be concerned by its rate of cash burn. For the purpose of this article, we’ll define cash burn as the amount of cash the company is spending each year to fund its growth (also called its negative free cash flow). We’ll start by comparing its cash burn with its cash reserves in order to calculate its cash runway.

See our latest analysis for NuCana

Does NuCana Have A Long Cash Runway?

You can calculate a company’s cash runway by dividing the amount of cash it has by the rate at which it is spending that cash. As at June 2020, NuCana had cash of UK£48m and no debt. Importantly, its cash burn was UK£21m over the trailing twelve months. Therefore, from June 2020 it had 2.3 years of cash runway. Arguably, that’s a prudent and sensible length of runway to have. Depicted below, you can see how its cash holdings have changed over time.

debt-equity-history-analysis

How Is NuCana’s Cash Burn Changing Over Time?

Because NuCana isn’t currently generating revenue, we consider it an early-stage business. Nonetheless, we can still examine its cash burn trajectory as part of our assessment of its cash burn situation. Over the last year its cash burn actually increased by 8.3%, which suggests that management are increasing investment in future growth, but not too quickly. However, the company’s true cash runway will therefore be shorter than suggested above, if spending continues to increase. Clearly, however, the crucial factor is whether the company will grow its business going forward. For that reason, it makes a lot of sense to take a look at our analyst forecasts for the company.

How Easily Can NuCana Raise Cash?

While its cash burn is only increasing slightly, NuCana shareholders should still consider the potential need for further cash, down the track. Companies can raise capital through either debt or equity. One of the main advantages held by publicly listed companies is that they can sell shares to investors to raise cash and fund growth. By comparing a company’s annual cash burn to its total market capitalisation, we can estimate roughly how many shares it would have to issue in order to run the company for another year (at the same burn rate).

Since it has a market capitalisation of UK£171m, NuCana’s UK£21m in cash burn equates to about 12% of its market value. Given that situation, it’s fair to say the company wouldn’t have much trouble raising more cash for growth, but shareholders would be somewhat diluted.

How Risky Is NuCana’s Cash Burn Situation?

On this analysis of NuCana’s cash burn, we think its cash runway was reassuring, while its increasing cash burn has us a bit worried. Considering all the factors discussed in this article, we’re not overly concerned about the company’s cash burn, although we do think shareholders should keep an eye on how it develops. Separately, we looked at different risks affecting the company and spotted 4 warning signs for NuCana (of which 2 can’t be ignored!) you should know about.

Of course NuCana may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of companies boasting high return on equity, or this list of stocks that insiders are buying.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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