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Will Pfenex (NYSEMKT:PFNX) Spend Its Cash Wisely?

Simply Wall St

There's no doubt that money can be made by owning shares of unprofitable businesses. Indeed, Pfenex (NYSEMKT:PFNX) stock is up 105% in the last year, providing strong gains for shareholders. Having said that, unprofitable companies are risky because they could potentially burn through all their cash and become distressed.

Given its strong share price performance, we think it's worthwhile for Pfenex shareholders to consider whether its cash burn is concerning. In this article, we define cash burn as its annual (negative) free cash flow, which is the amount of money a company spends each year to fund its growth. First, we'll determine its cash runway by comparing its cash burn with its cash reserves.

View our latest analysis for Pfenex

How Long Is Pfenex's 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 June 2019, Pfenex had cash of US$42m and no debt. Importantly, its cash burn was US$39m over the trailing twelve months. So it had a cash runway of approximately 13 months from June 2019. While that cash runway isn't too concerning, sensible holders would be peering into the distance, and considering what happens if the company runs out of cash. Depicted below, you can see how its cash holdings have changed over time.

AMEX:PFNX Historical Debt, October 14th 2019

How Well Is Pfenex Growing?

Notably, Pfenex actually ramped up its cash burn very hard and fast in the last year, by 109%, signifying heavy investment in the business. As if that's not bad enough, the operating revenue also dropped by 35%, making us very wary indeed. In light of the above-mentioned, we're pretty wary of the trajectory the company seems to be on. 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 Hard Would It Be For Pfenex To Raise More Cash For Growth?

Since Pfenex can't yet boast improving growth metrics, the market will likely be considering how it can raise more cash if need be. 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. By looking at a company's cash burn relative to its market capitalisation, we gain insight on how much shareholders would be diluted if the company needed to raise enough cash to cover another year's cash burn.

Pfenex has a market capitalisation of US$281m and burnt through US$39m last year, which is 14% 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.

So, Should We Worry About Pfenex's Cash Burn?

On this analysis of Pfenex's cash burn, we think its cash burn relative to its market cap was reassuring, while its increasing cash burn has us a bit worried. Looking at the factors mentioned in this short report, we do think that its cash burn is a bit risky, and it does make us slightly nervous about the stock. For us, it's always important to consider risks around cash burn rates. But investors should look at a whole range of factors when researching a new stock. For example, it could be interesting to see how much the Pfenex CEO receives in total remuneration.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of companies insiders are buying, and this list of stocks growth stocks (according to analyst forecasts)

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. 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. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.