What: Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF -0.69%) saw its stock price advance 57.5% in August. In a month where broader market action was, at best, crazy, Cliffs was something of a standout because it was up so much when so many other stocks were down.
So what: But you have to take the nearly 60% jump with a grain of salt. That's because the miner's shares are down roughly 65% between January and July. That may look like an even trade, but with percentages, you have to go up a lot more to make up for big declines (a 50% decline requires a 100% advance to gain back what was lost). So Cliffs started the year trading in the area of $6.50 a share and even after the big jump last month is only back to the $4 area.
Some of what drove the advance was Cliffs' successful tender for roughly $125 million worth of debt. That was a big step toward shoring up the company's balance sheet, a focus in the past year or so. This particular corporate action reduced the overhang of near-dated date, trimmed the company's overall debt load, and reduced ongoing interest expense by around $18 million over the remaining life of the 2018 dated notes. So, in all, it was good news.
So what: In the end, however, Cliffs is still struggling to retrench in a difficult market. For example, it has been cutting costs and selling assets, notably its now non-core coal business, as it tries to deal with still weak iron ore prices. It is doing the right things, but the industry dynamic hasn't changed. So conservative investors should still avoid Cliffs. Those looking for a contrarian play, however, should like the positives here. Whether or not that means now is the time to buy is a much harder question to answer, though. Cliffs is still a debt-heavy struggling miner; it's just in a slightly better financial position than it was a month or so ago. Tread carefully.