Images

What: Shares of Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE:CLF) shot up 11% today as the company announced that it was buying back some of its senior debt.

So what: A couple of weeks ago, Cliffs' management announced that it would be repurchasing about $100 million worth of its senior notes due 2018. Today, the company announced that it would increase that tendered buyback offer to $123.7 million. For shareholders, there are two encouraging signs about this deal. The first is that it helps to reduce Cliffs' overall debt load. At present, the company has $2.7 billion in debt, which gives it a debt-to-EBITDA ratio of 6.97 times. Even after this debt purchase, this is a higher than industry average debt leverage ratio, and it is one of the primary reasons that the company's shares have declined 77% over the past year.

The second reason is that Cliffs was buying back those notes at $550 per $1,000 note, basically buying its debt back at 55 cents to the dollar. It's never a good thing when a company is actually able to buy its debt back at a level so far below par value, but it does show that the company is making small, opportunistic strides to whittle down its debt.  

Now what: We need to put this in a little context. $123 million in debt is a small dent in that $2.7 billion debt burden weighing on the company. Even after this repurchase, there are still $313 million in notes outstanding in 2018. After that, the company has another $1.6 billion due in 2020.

Ever since the company's new management has taken over, they have done their best to reduce capital spending to the barest expenses possible and have shuttered numerous operations to focus on Cliffs' most profitable segment: U.S. iron ore. It is likely the best strategy long term for the company, but current iron ore prices are not doing it any favors. Without some significant improvement in iron ore prices, Cliffs will continue to struggle to regain shareholder value. 

Tyler Crowe owns shares of Cliffs Natural Resources. You can follow him at Fool.com or on Twitter @TylerCroweFool.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Cliffs Natural Resources. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.