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We Think NuCana (NASDAQ:NCNA) Needs To Drive Business Growth Carefully

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·4 min read
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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, although software-as-a-service business Salesforce.com lost money for years while it grew recurring revenue, if you held shares since 2005, you'd have done very well indeed. 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.

Given this risk, we thought we'd take a look at whether NuCana (NASDAQ:NCNA) shareholders should be worried about its cash burn. 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. Let's start with an examination of the business' cash, relative to its cash burn.

See our latest analysis for NuCana

When Might NuCana Run Out Of Money?

A cash runway is defined as the length of time it would take a company to run out of money if it kept spending at its current rate of cash burn. As at December 2021, NuCana had cash of UK£60m and no debt. Looking at the last year, the company burnt through UK£25m. So it had a cash runway of about 2.4 years from December 2021. Notably, analysts forecast that NuCana will break even (at a free cash flow level) in about 4 years. Essentially, that means the company will either reduce its cash burn, or else require more cash. The image below shows how its cash balance has been changing over the last few years.

debt-equity-history-analysis
debt-equity-history-analysis

How Is NuCana's Cash Burn Changing Over Time?

NuCana didn't record any revenue over the last year, indicating that it's an early stage company still developing its business. So while we can't look to sales to understand growth, we can look at how the cash burn is changing to understand how expenditure is trending over time. With the cash burn rate up 7.0% in the last year, it seems that the company is ratcheting up investment in the business over time. 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. So you might want to take a peek at how much the company is expected to grow in the next few years.

How Hard Would It Be For NuCana To Raise More Cash For Growth?

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. Commonly, a business will sell new shares in itself to raise cash and drive 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£28m, NuCana's UK£25m in cash burn equates to about 89% of its market value. Given just how high that expenditure is, relative to the company's market value, we think there's an elevated risk of funding distress, and we would be very nervous about holding the stock.

Is NuCana's Cash Burn A Worry?

On this analysis of NuCana's cash burn, we think its cash runway was reassuring, while its cash burn relative to its market cap has us a bit worried. One real positive is that analysts are forecasting that the company will reach breakeven. Even though we don't think it has a problem with its cash burn, the analysis we've done in this article does suggest that shareholders should give some careful thought to the potential cost of raising more money in the future. On another note, we conducted an in-depth investigation of the company, and identified 4 warning signs for NuCana (1 is a bit unpleasant!) 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 companies insiders are buying, and this list of stocks growth stocks (according to analyst forecasts)

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.