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We're A Little Worried About Lithium Australia's (ASX:LIT) Cash Burn Rate

Simply Wall St

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. Nonetheless, only a fool would ignore the risk that a loss making company burns through its cash too quickly.

Given this risk, we thought we'd take a look at whether Lithium Australia (ASX:LIT) 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. The first step is to compare its cash burn with its cash reserves, to give us its 'cash runway'.

See our latest analysis for Lithium Australia

When Might Lithium Australia Run Out Of Money?

A company's cash runway is calculated by dividing its cash hoard by its cash burn. In June 2019, Lithium Australia had AU$2.8m in cash, and was debt-free. Importantly, its cash burn was AU$10m over the trailing twelve months. Therefore, from June 2019 it had roughly 3 months of cash runway. That's a very short cash runway which indicates an imminent need to douse the cash burn or find more funding. You can see how its cash balance has changed over time in the image below.

ASX:LIT Historical Debt, November 14th 2019

How Is Lithium Australia's Cash Burn Changing Over Time?

Whilst it's great to see that Lithium Australia has already begun generating revenue from operations, last year it only produced AU$177k, so we don't think it is generating significant revenue, at this point. Therefore, for the purposes of this analysis we'll focus on how the cash burn is tracking. During the last twelve months, its cash burn actually ramped up 83%. While this spending increase is no doubt intended to drive growth, if the trend continues the company's cash runway will shrink very quickly. Admittedly, we're a bit cautious of Lithium Australia due to its lack of significant operating revenues. So we'd generally prefer stocks from this list of stocks that have analysts forecasting growth.

Can Lithium Australia Raise More Cash Easily?

Given its cash burn trajectory, Lithium Australia shareholders should already be thinking about how easy it might be for it to raise further cash in the future. 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 to fund 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.

Since it has a market capitalisation of AU$19m, Lithium Australia's AU$10m in cash burn equates to about 55% of its market value. That's high expenditure relative to the value of the entire company, so if it does have to issue shares to fund more growth, that could end up really hurting shareholders returns (through significant dilution).

How Risky Is Lithium Australia's Cash Burn Situation?

There are no prizes for guessing that we think Lithium Australia's cash burn is a bit of a worry. In particular, we think its cash runway suggests it isn't in a good position to keep funding growth. While not as bad as its cash runway, its increasing cash burn is also a concern, and considering everything mentioned above, we're struggling to find much to be optimistic about. The measures we've considered in this article lead us to believe its cash burn is actually quite concerning, and its weak cash position seems likely to cost shareholders one way or another. While we always like to monitor cash burn for early stage companies, qualitative factors such as the CEO pay can also shed light on the situation. Click here to see free what the Lithium Australia CEO is paid..

Of course Lithium Australia 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.

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.