We can readily understand why investors are attracted to unprofitable companies. For example, biotech and mining exploration companies often lose money for years before finding success with a new treatment or mineral discovery. But while history lauds those rare successes, those that fail are often forgotten; who remembers Pets.com?
So, the natural question for LAIX (NYSE:LAIX) shareholders is whether they should be concerned by its rate of 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'.
When Might LAIX Run Out Of Money?
A company's cash runway is calculated by dividing its cash hoard by its cash burn. As at December 2020, LAIX had cash of CN¥229m and no debt. Importantly, its cash burn was CN¥312m over the trailing twelve months. Therefore, from December 2020 it had roughly 9 months of cash runway. That's quite a short cash runway, indicating the company must either reduce its annual cash burn or replenish its cash. You can see how its cash balance has changed over time in the image below.
How Well Is LAIX Growing?
LAIX actually ramped up its cash burn by a whopping 56% in the last year, which shows it is boosting investment in the business. As if that's not bad enough, the operating revenue also dropped by 4.9%, making us very wary indeed. Considering both these metrics, we're a little concerned about how the company is developing. 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 LAIX To Raise More Cash For Growth?
LAIX revenue is declining and its cash burn is increasing, so many may be considering its need to raise more cash in the future. Companies can raise capital through either debt or equity. Commonly, a business will sell new shares in itself to raise cash and drive 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.
LAIX's cash burn of CN¥312m is about 53% of its CN¥589m market capitalisation. 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).
So, Should We Worry About LAIX's Cash Burn?
LAIX is not in a great position when it comes to its cash burn situation. While its falling revenue wasn't too bad, its cash burn relative to its market cap does leave us rather nervous. 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. Taking a deeper dive, we've spotted 5 warning signs for LAIX you should be aware of, and 3 of them are a bit concerning.
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)
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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