Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Measuring Company’s Financial Health

DESPITE the recent strong stock market rally as a result of the current tough economic environment, some investors may still doubt the financial health of some listed companies.

At present, apart from some common financial ratios such as debt-to-equity and interest coverage ratios, investors are looking for a ratio that can provide an indicator on the potential bankruptcy risk for any listed companies.

In this article, we will look into a method called Altman’s Z-Score, which can help us determine the bankruptcy risk of a company.

The Altman’s Z-Score Method was developed by Dr Edward I. Altman in 1968. It is a multivariate formula to measure the financial health of a company on whether it will enter into bankruptcy in the coming two years.

This method uses five common business ratios: earnings before interest and tax (ebit)/total assets ratio; sales/total assets ratio; market value of equity/market value of total liabilities; working capital/total asset ratio and retained earnings/total assets.

The Z-Score is computed using a weighted system based on the formula below:-

Z= 3.3X1 + X2 + 0.6X3 + 1.2X4 +1.4X5


X1 = ebit/total assets
X2 = sales/total assets
X3 = market value of equity/total liabilities
X4 = working capital/total assets
X5 = retained earnings/total assets

According to Altman, if the score is 3.0 or above, bankruptcy is not likely. If the score is 1.8 or less, potential financial embarrassment is very high.

A score between 1.8 and 3.0 is the grey area where the company has a high risk of going into bankruptcy within the next two years from the date of the given financial figures.

Hence, we can conclude that we should look for companies with higher Z-Scores for investing.

We have computed Z-Scores for two listed companies, Company A and Company E. Company A is consumer-based whereas Company E is property-based. We notice that Company A has a strong Z-Score value of 5.78 versus a very low 0.62 for Company E. Based on Z-Score, Company A is very unlikely to go bankrupt (5.78>3.00) whereas the chances of Company E going into bankruptcy is very high (0.62<1.80).

The reason behind the very low Z-Score value for Company E was because it had a very low market value over its total liabilities as compared to the high market value for Company A. In fact, Company E is currently having financial difficulties and is under PN17 (Practice Notes 17).

In short, companies with higher profit margins, sales, market value, working capital and retained earnings against their total assets will command a higher Z-Score.

This method is popular in the Western countries where some accountants found it quite reliable and accurate.

In the Malaysian context, according to a user manual published by Dynaquest Sdn Bhd, they found that the cut-off at around 1.5 is a better measurement of the likelihood of bankruptcy as compared to the 1.8 stated by Altman.

It may appear that companies selling at higher market value are safer than companies with lower market value. However, sometimes we may be tempted to nibble companies with lower stock prices.

We should be aware that the current very low stock prices for certain companies may indicate to us that the coming financial results of these companies might be quite disappointing.

However, we should be aware that Z-Score does not apply to every situation. We may want to use additional financial ratio like debt-to-equity ratio to complement this method.


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