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The Beneish M-Score and Recessions

In times of economic uncertainty, pay attention to recession warning signs, like companies filing misleading financial statements and reports. Here’s how the Beneish M-Score can measure the likelihood of financial statement manipulation, and even help predict the next recession.

 The Beneish M-Score and Its Significance 

The Beneish M-score serves as a statistical model designed to detect potential financial statement manipulation by companies. It employs eight financial ratios, including Days Sales in Receivables Index, Gross Margin Index, Asset Quality Index, Sales Growth Index, Depreciation Index, Sales, General, and Administrative Expenses Index, Leverage Index, and Total Accruals to Total Assets. These ratios are analyzed to calculate standardized residuals, which are then squared, summed up, and compared to a threshold value. If the M-score falls below -1.78, it indicates a lower likelihood of manipulation, whereas an M-score above -1.78 suggests a higher probability of manipulation. 

Leading up to a recession, companies tend to file more misleading reports. By examining thousands of publicly traded companies over a span of 43 years, researchers have identified a significant link between higher M-scores and a higher probability of an impending recession occurring within the next five to eight quarters. 

The Role of the Beneish M-Score in Detecting Manipulation 

To illustrate the effectiveness of the Beneish M-score, the study examined Enron’s financial statements from 1996 to 2000. The results demonstrated that the M-score would have been able to detect significant accounting manipulation by Enron as early as 1998. This example emphasizes the importance of identifying and addressing manipulated accounting figures promptly, as consequences can be detrimental to your investment. Other firms and investors rely on accurate financial information to make employment and investment decisions, and misleading reports can lead to a ripple effect that contributes to the loss of confidence in the capital market. 

How to Calculate the M-Score 

The Beneish M-Score is derived through a formula that combines the weighted values of the different ratios. Here is the formula for calculating the Beneish M-Score: 

M-Score = -4.84 + (0.92 * DSRI) + (0.528 * GMI) + (0.404 * AQI) + (0.892 * SGI) + (0.115 * DEPI) – (0.172 * SGAI) + (4.679 * TATA) – (0.327 * LVGI) 

Each ratio is multiplied by its respective weight, and the resulting values are summed up to calculate the M-Score. This formula provides a quantitative assessment of the likelihood of financial statement manipulation based on the eight included ratios. 

To calculate the M-Score of a company, try using this table. 

Here is a summary of what each variable means: 

  1. DSRI (Days Sales in Receivables Index): A significant increase in receivables may indicate accelerated revenue recognition, which can be a red flag for potential manipulation. 
  2. GMI (Gross Margin Index): A smaller gross margin creates an incentive for companies to inflate profits. Therefore, a lower gross margin index contributes to a higher M-Score. 
  3. AQI (Asset Quality Index): An increase in long-term assets (LTA) may suggest a cost deferral manoeuvre, such as capitalizing costs rather than expensing them. This manipulation tactic can be detected through the Asset Quality Index. 
  4. SGI (Sales Growth Index): High-growth companies face more pressure to meet earnings targets. Consequently, a higher sales growth index adds to the likelihood of manipulation. 
  5. DEPI (Depreciation Index): Changes in the method of depreciation calculation or adjustments in the estimated useful life of assets can be indicators of potential manipulation. The Depreciation Index examines these aspects to contribute to the M-Score. 
  6. SGAI (Sales, General, and Administrative Expenses Index): If the ratio of SG&A expenses to sales is high, it can create an incentive for companies to inflate profits. Hence, a higher SGAI ratio increases the M-Score. 
  7. TATA (Total Accruals to Total Assets): Higher accruals can indicate a greater likelihood of profit manipulation. By analyzing the ratio of total accruals to total assets, the M-Score assesses this potential manipulation factor. 
  8. LVGI (Leverage Index): Companies with higher leverage may feel compelled to manipulate profits to meet debt covenants. The Leverage Index examines the level of leverage to determine its impact on the M-Score. 

Utilizing the M-Score for Informed Decision-Making 

By analyzing the M-scores of publicly traded companies, investors and firms can make more informed decisions and potentially mitigate the damaging consequences of manipulated financial information. However, it is essential to note that the M-score should be used in conjunction with other methods of financial analysis, and it should not be relied upon as the sole determining factor. 


  • W. Christopher Kovalchuk, MBA
    Chris began his professional career in 2016, as a financial analyst, in the Financial Technology Credit/Lending sector. He earned his MBA, part-time, from Concordia University in 2019. Chris has been a member of Claret since 2018 working in trading & research and recently moved into the role of Associate Portfolio Manager.

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