E= Sales / Total Assets (efficiency ratio – measures how much the company’s assets are producing in sales).
Z-Score of < 1.81 represents a company in distress.
Z-Score between 1.81 and 2.99 represents the “caution” zone.
Z-Score of over 3.0 represents a company with a safe balance sheet.
The Altman Z-Score has become popular enough to be found in most data services such as Y-Charts.
Here is a Z-Score calculator for those who want to figure the calculation directly from company financials:
History of the Altman Z-Score
Edward Altman was a NYU Stern Finance Professor in 1968 when he developed the original Z-Score. Recently, he has produced updated versions for private companies, non-manufacturing companies, and emerging markets companies (see below).
For those interested in really delving into the subject, here is his 2000 Research Paper:
Predicting Financial Distress of Companies: Revisiting the Z-Score and Zeta Models
Z-Score Accuracy and Limitations
Studies show that the Z-Score is able to predict 80-90% of bankruptcies 1 year prior to the fact. It does this with a small percentage of false positives. In other words, the formula provides high confidence probabilities but not certainty.
Other studies show that there is great value in evaluating the strength of balance sheets. Stocks of companies with weak balance sheets underperform the market more often than not. This makes the Altman Z-Score a great tool to quickly screen the health of a balance sheet.
There are limitations which should be kept in mind. First the Z-Score does not work with private, financial, or foreign companies. Altman later developed revised versions:
Z1-Score – Score for Private Firms
Z1 = .72(A) + .84(B) + 3.107(C) + .42(D) + 1.0(E)
A = Working Capital (Current Assets – Current Liabilities) / Total Assets (Measures liquidity of firm)
B= Retained Earnings / Total Assets (measures accumulated profits compared to assets)
C= Earnings Before Interest & Taxes (EBIT) / Total Assets (measures how much profit the firm’s assets are producing)
D= Book Value of Equity / Total liabilities (substitutes BV instead of market value for private companies)
E= Sales / Total Assets (efficiency ratio – measures how much the companies assets are producing in sales).
Z-Score of < 1.23 represents a company in distress.
Z-Score between 1.23 and 2.9 represents the “caution” zone.
Z-Score of over 2.9 represents a company with a safe balance sheet.
Z2 – Score For Non-Manufacturers & Emerging Markets
Z2 = 6.56(A) + 3.26(B) + 6.72(C) + 1.05(D)
Sales/Total Assets is left out of this formula since it is used for non-manufacturers.
Using Z-Score to Improve Your Investment Screening
The Altman Z-Score combines several important ratios into a single metric that provides valuable information about the financial health of a company. This makes the Z-Score a convenient and helpful formula as one of your first stock screens.
The importance of not losing all of your investment cannot be overstated. The Z-Score will help you avoid companies that are headed towards bankruptcy.
Arbor Asset Allocation Model Portfolios (AAAMP)
This article was republished with permission from the Arbor Investment Planner.