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There's no doubt that money can be made by owning shares of unprofitable businesses. For example, although Amazon.com made losses for many years after listing, if you had bought and held the shares since 1999, you would have made a fortune. Nonetheless, only a fool would ignore the risk that a loss making company burns through its cash too quickly.
So, the natural question for Vital Metals (ASX:VML) shareholders is whether they should be concerned by its rate of cash burn. For the purposes of this article, cash burn is the annual rate at which an unprofitable company spends cash to fund its growth; its negative free cash flow. The first step is to compare its cash burn with its cash reserves, to give us its 'cash runway'.
Does Vital Metals Have A Long Cash Runway?
A company's cash runway is the amount of time it would take to burn through its cash reserves at its current cash burn rate. As at December 2021, Vital Metals had cash of AU$18m and no debt. In the last year, its cash burn was AU$29m. Therefore, from December 2021 it had roughly 7 months of cash runway. To be frank, this kind of short runway puts us on edge, as it indicates the company must reduce its cash burn significantly, or else raise cash imminently. The image below shows how its cash balance has been changing over the last few years.
How Is Vital Metals' Cash Burn Changing Over Time?
Vital Metals didn't record any revenue over the last year, indicating that it's an early stage company still developing its business. Nonetheless, we can still examine its cash burn trajectory as part of our assessment of its cash burn situation. Remarkably, it actually increased its cash burn by 323% in the last year. With that kind of spending growth its cash runway will shorten quickly, as it simultaneously uses its cash while increasing the burn rate. Vital Metals makes us a little nervous due to its lack of substantial operating revenue. So we'd generally prefer stocks from this list of stocks that have analysts forecasting growth.
Can Vital Metals Raise More Cash Easily?
Since its cash burn is moving in the wrong direction, Vital Metals shareholders may wish to think ahead to when the company may need to raise more cash. Generally speaking, a listed business can raise new cash through issuing shares or taking on debt. Many companies end up issuing new shares to fund future growth. We can compare a company's cash burn to its market capitalisation to get a sense for how many new shares a company would have to issue to fund one year's operations.
Vital Metals has a market capitalisation of AU$279m and burnt through AU$29m last year, which is 11% of the company's market value. As a result, we'd venture that the company could raise more cash for growth without much trouble, albeit at the cost of some dilution.
How Risky Is Vital Metals' Cash Burn Situation?
Even though its increasing cash burn makes us a little nervous, we are compelled to mention that we thought Vital Metals' cash burn relative to its market cap was relatively promising. Considering all the measures mentioned in this report, we reckon that its cash burn is fairly risky, and if we held shares we'd be watching like a hawk for any deterioration. On another note, we conducted an in-depth investigation of the company, and identified 4 warning signs for Vital Metals (3 make us uncomfortable!) that you should be aware of before investing here.
Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies, and this list of stocks growth stocks (according to analyst forecasts)
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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.