Zero-Debt Goal Puts Cleveland-Cliffs on a Positive Path

Cleveland-Cliffs (NYSE:CLF) is a commodities industry icon that’s been around (in one form or another) since 1847, and happens to be North America’s largest flat-rolled steel producer. Yet, despite the company’s pedigree, not everyone likes CLF stock.

Cleveland Cliffs (CLF) logo on an iPhone
Source: IgorGolovniov /

In fact, some folks are downright bearish, and after Cleveland-Cliffs’ recent data release, the overall sentiment felt pessimistic, or at least unimpressed.

Perhaps this was because experts on Wall Street were expecting more from the company. Is this a reason to sell CLF stock, though?

Not necessarily.

A deep dive into the data will uncover some encouraging stats and, as we’ll discover, there’s a “monumental” debt reduction plan in the works.

A Closer Look at CLF Stock

I’m certainly not going to claim that CLF stock is problem-free.

The company has trailing 12-month earnings per share of -7 cents, so I’d like to see that number turn positive.

Plus, the stock has a five-year monthly beta of 2.3, meaning that it has historically tended to move at least twice as fast as the S&P 500. For anyone who’s averse to volatility, that’s not a good thing.

On the other hand, momentum-focused traders should appreciate the price action of CLF stock.

Just in the past year, the share price has flown from $5 and change to $21, for a gain of at least 300%.

Interestingly, the price movements have been muted lately. Even high-beta stocks have to take a breather sometimes, I suppose.

But don’t get the wrong idea – CLF stock can be explosive sometimes.

Therefore, it’s not recommended investors initiate a large position, but a small investment is worth it if you believe in the company’s long-term prospects.

The Market Isn’t Impressed

On the morning of July 22, Cleveland-Cliffs released its fiscal results for 2021’s second quarter.

That day, CLF stock declined and then retraced back to break-even (or fairly close to it). In other words, investors generally weren’t too impressed.

Probably, this is because investors – or more accurately, the experts on Wall Street – were expecting more.

For the second quarter, Cleveland-Cliffs posted adjusted profits of $1.46 per share. That’s a vast improvement over the 28 cents per share reported for the year-ago period. Yet, it still fell short of Wall Street’s consensus forecast of $1.52 per share.

At the same time, Cleveland-Cliffs’ group revenues increased nearly four-fold on a year-over-year basis, to $5.05 billion, but that result was essentially in line with analysts’ estimates of $5.01 billion.

Clearly, it’s not always easy to keep the experts and the shareholders happy. That might be a function of their heightened expectations, though, rather than any actual problems with the company itself.

A New Commercial Discipline

At least one Wall Street expert, however, does seem to be duly impressed with Cleveland-Cliffs.

Credit Suisse analyst Curt Woodworth recently issued an “outperform” on CLF stock, along with a price target of $28.

Woodworth sees “significant upside potential” across Cleveland-Cliffs’ contract portfolio, but there’s another major angle worth noting.

In particular, Woodworth emphasized Cleveland-Cliffs’ new commercial discipline in the company’s business model.

Evidently, the analyst is alluding to Cleveland-Cliffs’ bold fiscal objective, overtly and proudly articulated by CEO Lourenco Goncalves.

“We are set for a monumental debt reduction during the back half of this year, and the achievement of zero net debt in 2022,” Goncalves declared.

To help achieve this, the company is guiding for free cash flow generation of around $1.4 billion during the current quarter.

The Bottom Line

Goncalves certainly has a flair for the dramatic.

Still, being debt-free (if this actually happens) will undoubtedly make Cleveland-Cliffs a more compelling and investable company.

Besides, Wall Street is awfully hard to impress sometimes. In response, you can choose to ignore the naysayers, acknowledge the bullish data and continue to hold CLF stock.

On the date of publication, David Moadel did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the Publishing Guidelines.

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