We present a prediction model to forecast corporate defaults. In a theoretical model, under incomplete information in a market with publicly traded equity, we show that our approach must outperform ratings, Altman’s Z-score, and Merton’s distance to default. We reconcile the statistical and structural approaches under a common framework; that is, our approach nests Altman’s and Merton’s approaches as special cases. Empirically, the combined approach is indeed the most powerful predictor, and the numbers of observed defaults align well with the estimated probabilities. With a new transformation method, we obtain cycle-adjusted forecasts that still outperform ratings.
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