The Morningstar stock-grading system is a quantitative scoring system that consists of three grades: Growth, Profitability, and Financial Health. They're meant to be a quick way to get a handle on a company's fundamentals.
All grades are based on relative rankings. For example, a company that receives an "A" in growth is a company that ranks near the top of our universe in terms of growth. We award 10% of the universe As, 20% Bs, 40% Cs, 20% Ds, and 10% Fs.
The grades are based solely on the numbers reported by the company in its SEC filings. Due to accounting conventions, however, these grades may or may not reflect the underlying economic reality, and investors should view the grades as a starting point for analysis rather than a definitive judgment on the company. No Morningstar analyst makes a subjective call as to what grade a company should get.
All information used to calculate the grades comes from Morningstar's internal equities database.
The growth grade is based on the trend in revenue per share using data from the past five years. For the purpose of calculating revenue per share we use the past five years' revenue figures and corresponding year-end fully diluted shares outstanding; if year-end fully diluted shares outstanding is not available, we calculate this figure by dividing the company's reported net income applicable to common shareholders by the reported fully diluted earnings per share. A company must have a minimum of four consecutive years of positive and non-zero revenue, including the latest fiscal year, to qualify for a grade.
In calculating the revenue per share growth rate, we calculate the slope of the regression line of historical revenue per share. We then divide the slope of the regression line by the arithmetic average of historical revenue per share figures. The result of the regression is a normalized historical increase or decrease in the rate of growth for sales per share. We then calculate a z-score by subtracting the universe mean revenue growth from the company's revenue growth, and dividing by the standard deviation of the universe's growth rates.
Stocks are sorted based on the z-score of their revenue per share growth rate calculated above, from the most negative z-score to the most positive z-score. Stocks are then ranked based on their z-score from 1 to the total number of qualified stocks. We assign grades based on this ranking.
The profitability grade is based on return on shareholders' equity (ROE) using data from the past five years. Companies with less than four years of consecutive ROE figures, including the ROE figure for the latest fiscal year, are excluded from the calculations. For the remaining universe of stocks the profitability grade is based on the following three components:
(1) The historical growth rate of ROE
Financial Health Grade
(2) The average level of historical ROE
(3) The level of ROE in the latest fiscal year
Instead of using accounting-based ratios to formulate a measure to reflect the financial health of a firm, we use structural or contingent claim models. Structural models take advantage of both market information and accounting financial information. The firm's equity in such models is viewed as a call option on the value of the firm's assets. If the value of the assets is not sufficient to cover the firm's liabilities (the strike price), default is expected to occur, and the call option expires worthless and the firm is turned over to its creditors. To estimate a distance to default, the value of the firm's liabilities is obtained from the firm's latest balance sheet and incorporated into the model. We then rank the calculated distance to default and award 10% of the universe A's, 20% B's, 40% C's, 20% D's, and 10% F's.
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