What happened

The shares of uranium miner Denison Mines Corp. (DNN -0.22%) fell 12.8% last month. That adds to the company's roughly 45% year-to-date decline. It hasn't been pretty, and its performance has been much worse than uranium industry giant Cameco Corp., which was down around 5% last month and has fallen 30% year to date.

So what

The big difference between Denison and Cameco is production. Cameco runs operating mines and Denison's assets are all development projects. That makes Denison something of a leveraged bet on uranium's future. So when investors are down on the outlook for uranium or uranium prices falter, Denison stock is going to fall harder.

Nuclear power plants

Image source: Getty Images

Another big issue that investors are watching, however, is how Denison manages to get from where it is today to owning operating mines. That's going to require cash, something that Denison is burning through as it develops its mines. Denison benefits from owning a stake in a uranium processing facility, but that doesn't generate enough money to cover expenses. 

That's why Denison has been selling stock (which dilutes current shareholders) and why it inked a deal in the first quarter to monetize future revenue from the mill it partially owns. These efforts help provide cash now, which is vital to the company's development efforts, but create headwinds for future shareholder returns that rightly worry investors. 

Now what

Money-losing Denison is not appropriate for conservative investors. It is a leveraged bet that uranium demand and prices will be higher in the future than they are today. It has a unique story to tell in the space, but only for those willing to take on the risks of a company that is still only developing its uranium mines. More conservative investors should take a look at Cameco.