What is the Altman Z-Score?
The Altman Z-score is the output of a credit-strength test that gauges a publicly traded manufacturing company's likelihood of bankruptcy. The Altman Z-score is based on five financial ratios that can calculate from data found on a company's annual 10-K report. It uses profitability, leverage, liquidity, solvency and activity to predict whether a company has high probability of being insolvent.
Breaking Down the Altman Z-Score
One can calculate the Altman Z-score as follows:
Z-Score = 1.2A + 1.4B + 3.3C + 0.6D + 1.0E
A = working capital / total assets
B = retained earnings / total assets
C = earnings before interest and tax / total assets
D = market value of equity / total liabilities
E = sales / total assets
NYU Stern Finance Professor Edward Altman developed the Altman Z-score formula in 1967, and it was published in 1968. In 2012, he released an updated version called the Altman Z-score Plus that one can use to evaluate public and private companies, manufacturing and non-manufacturing companies, and U.S. and non-U.S. companies. One can use Altman Z-score Plus to evaluate corporate credit risk.
A score below 1.8 means it's likely the company is headed for bankruptcy, while companies with scores above 3 are not likely to go bankrupt. Investors can use Altman Z-scores to determine whether they should buy or sell a stock if they're concerned about the company's underlying financial strength. Investors may consider purchasing a stock if its Altman Z-Score value is closer to 3 and selling or shorting a stock if the value is closer to 1.8.
Altman Z-Scores and the Financial Crisis
In 2007, the credit ratings of specific asset-related securities had been rated higher than they should have been. The Altman Z-score indicated that the companies' risks were increasing significantly and may have been heading for bankruptcy.
Altman calculated that the median Altman Z-score of companies in 2007 was 1.81. These companies' credit ratings were equivalent to a B. This indicated that 50% of the firms should have had lower ratings, were highly distressed and had a high probability of becoming bankrupt.
Altman's calculations led him to believe a crisis would occur and there would be a meltdown in the credit market. Altman believed the crisis would stem from corporate defaults, but the meltdown began with mortgage-backed securities. However, corporations soon defaulted in 2009 at the second-highest rate in history.