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Public Company Research

Before You Begin

Information on public companies is considerably easier to locate than information on privately-held companies. In the United States much of the information you want to access will be readily available on various Internet sites or accessible through a local library with a little effort. The most obvious obvious place to begin are those basic sources mentioned in the directories section of this guide. However, they often don't have the depth that is needed, so there are other places to look. I have included only a small list of sources for information on public companies - there are many to choose from. The directions below are geared to finding information on US public companies, foreign company research is treated as it's own topic later in this guide.

Most researchers are concerned with looking for current filings/information. However, if you are looking for historical filings there are several things to note. First, the Securtities and Exchange Commission (SEC) did not always require companies to file electronically. From 1993-1996 the SEC does have an historical file that is searchable. Before 1993-1995 only occasional filings will be electronic so for that period it will be necessary to consult paper copies. Second, most of these pre-1993-95 filings are not going to be free. To access them you will have to go to vendors such as LivEdgar,External Link available from Westlaw Business, Thomson Research External Link and others.

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Doing Company Research

Table of Contents

Private Company Research
Public Company Research
Foreign Company Research

It is possible to access some filings on microfiche by going to a local public or university library. For example, the Library of Congress has two sets of annual reports one covering the years prior to 1974 and one covering the years 1974-1983 as well as a microfiche set of SEC filings so check a university or local public library near you for availability. There is a nice discussion offered from the Columbia University library. External Link Also, there is some access on Lexis-Nexis but this is subscription-based product so you will need to be a subscriber to access that information.

If you are looking for information on what is contained in SEC filings or want to know more, Investopedia has an "Introduction to Fundamental Analysis" External Link with information on many aspects of financial statements - Balance Sheet, Cash Flow, etc., and the has " Intro to SEC Forms" External Link that has links to information on the various aspects of the financial statements, some of which require registration. The Securities and Exchange Commissiona also offers an online filings search and a description of the various SEC filings [PDF Format: 533 KB / 61p].

There are also reports, available for a fee, which are prepared by investment houses like Merrill Lynch, External Link Credit Suisse First Boston, External Link Morgan Stanley Smith Barney,External Link Deutsche Bank, External Link etc. These reports are on public companies only, and can be quite expensive from aggregators like Investext External Link for those that subscribe. Some reports may be available from Business & Company Resources (Gale) a product often found in local public libraries.

Other sources of basic information about public companies include:

S&P Register of Corporations, Directors and Executives. Standard & Poor's Corp.
LC Call Number: HG4057.A4
LC Control Number: 76642986

Yahoo! Finance. External Link

This is a good starting point for all basic company information. Links to recent articles, SEC filings, recent stock information, etc.

Mergent's handbook of NASDAQ stocks. New York, N.Y. : Mergent, Inc., c2001-
LC Call Number: HG4501.M58
LC Catalog Record: 2002233054

Published 4 times a year. Contains information on stock trading, annual financial data for approximately 7 years, some quarterly data, recent news, contact, and other basic company data.

Mergent's Handbook of Common Stocks. New York, N.Y. : Published by FIS, a Mergent Company (once Moody's).
LC Call Number: HG4501.M59
LC Control Number: 2002256027

Published 4 times a year. Contains information on stock trading, annual financial data for approximately 7 years, some quarterly data, recent news, contact, and other basic company data.

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Business Lines

Company Web Pages.

Some will obviously be more helpful than others and each will be organized according to the needs of its company and with its own idiosyncracies.

SEC Filings.

The next place to look are in any filings the company has to make with the proper regulators. In the United States that is the Securities & Exchange Commission. Their 10Ks (annual reports - 10KSB for Small Business Public Companies) and 10Qs (quarterly reports) etc. can be a very rich source of information. Pay particular attention to Item 1 - the business description, Item 7 the Management Discussion and Analysis, External Link and the Financial Footnotes.External Link

Public Register's Annual Report Service.External Link

PRARS, is a large annual report service. Company financials, including annual reports, prospectuses or 10k's on over 3,600 public companies are available without charge to the investing public with registration. Link

Currently lists over 2,200 Annual Reports and covers the majority of the fortune 500 companies.

Listing Statements of the New York Stock Exchange.
LC Call Number: HG4501.N4
LC Control Number: ca 24000283

Useful for historical public company research. This title was published from 1884-1983 and contains the actual Prospectuses of companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Each volume has an index of the filings contained in that volume, and, up until the October 1953 edition, each volume also had a Cumulative Index. MIT has placed the cumulative list through December 1945 External Link online.

Mergent (Moody's) Bank and Finance Manual. New York Mergent FIS, 1955-.
LC Call Number: HG4961.M65
LC Control Number: 2001260249

Mergent (Moody's) Industrial Manual. New York, N.Y. : Mergent FIS, 1955-.
LC Call Number: HG4961.M67
LC Control Number: 56014721

Mergent (Moody's) OTC Industrial Manual. New York, NY : Mergent Inc., 1955- .
LC Call Number: HG4961.M7237 or HG4961.M723
LC Control Number: 77649772

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In addition to the print sources listed in the previous sections and company web pages, other places to search include:

D&B company reports.External Link

These are generally not free and often the information is limited.

Proxies filed with the SEC.

These are documents filed at the time the company has its Annual Meeting. They contain information on executive compensation packages and bios on the officers and directors. This document may be its own document within a 10K or "Incorporated by Reference."

ID Exec.External Link

This is a paid database, available to subscribers only, which contains information on 2,000,000 executive decision makers and 900,000 of the most important public, private, non-profit and government organizations in the U.S. and globally. Information on line-of-business decision makers is categorized with idEXEC's proprietary Job Function Codes plus hyper linked global parent/subsidiary org charts.

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SEC Filings. There are several sections to a public filing that are relevant here. Each section contains very different information.

  • Balance Sheet -
    information on assets like goodwill, inventories, intangibles, accounts receivable, PP&E (property, plant & equipment), etc. and liabilities like tax information, accounts payable, financing, etc. There are several sources that provide discussion on the Balance Sheet:, InvestopediaExternal Link and AccountingCoach.External Link
  • Income Statement -
    information on revenue, expenses, R&D, marketing and SG&A (sales and general expenses). There are several sources that provide discussion on the Income Statement:, Investopedia,External Link and The Link
  • Cash Flow -
    information on operations, inventory, financing, investments.
    Investopedia has a section in their "Introduction to Fundamental Analysis" devoted to the Cash Flow Statement.External Link It includes general information and a sample.
  • Financial Footnotes -
    give explanations as to accounting practices and other information to explain how they accounted for various elements in their financial statements.
    Investopedia includes a section devoted to Financial Footnotes.External Link

Company Web pages.

The investor section of the company web pages often have the Annual Reports and sometimes the SEC filings for the company.

Standard & Poor's (S&P).

This company has Industry Surveys that are by industry. Each has tables in the rear of the report that give much financial information by company by financial statement.

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Company Web Pages.

Companies frequently allow users to find information about particular plants (especially in manufacturing), properties they own, or other offices/locations (often found in the contact information).

Directory of Corporate Affiliations. Skokie, Ill. : National Register Pub. Co., c1973.
LC Call Number: HG4057.A217
LC Control Number: 83641510

This product is available in print, or by subscription from the publisher's web site External Linkor on Lexis-Nexis, a subscription based service.

Annual Reports and 10Ks.

These can usually be found on company web pages. SEC documents can be searched on the SEC.

Dun & Bradstreet.External Link

These reports are not free, but they can be purchased from Dun and Bradstreet.

America's Corporate Families: the Billion Dollar Directory. Parsippany, N.J. : Dun's Marketing Services.
LC Call Number: HG4057.A147
LC Control Number: 82643626

Basic information that Dun's includes in all of its publications: contact information, officers/directors, and very basic financial data.

Who Owns Whom. High Wycombe Bucks, [England] : Dun & Bradstreet Ltd.

Available in several regional volumes.

  • North and South American Edition
            LC Call Number: HG4081.Z65 W48
            LC Control Number: 98659281
  • Australasia, Asia, Middle East & Africa
            LC Call Number: HG4009 .W464
            LC Control Number: 98659285
  • United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland Ediion
            LC Call Number: HG4135.5 .W48
            LC Control Number: 98659287
  • Continental Europe
            LC Call Number: HG4132.Z5 W52
            LC Control Number: 98659286

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There is some information that is specific to particular industries: location, number of stores, square feet managed, etc. For example, Real Estate Investment Trusts, retail companies, manufacturing companies, and pharmaceutical companies (and other companies with a strong emphasis in R&D) are a few of the industries that may break down this type of information. It can usually be found in Item 1, the Business Section or in the Management Discussion & Analysis (the business section of what? the SEC filings?). Sources for some of this information includes the following:

R&DExternal Link
- Information on Research & Development can be discussed in the Business description and in the Management Discussion & Analysis while financial information is usually found in the Income Statement.

SG&A External Link
- Information on Sales/Selling, General, and Administration is usually one or two lines found in the Income Statement

PP&E External Link
- Information on Property, Plant , & Equipment is found in the Balance Sheet.

- This is something that may or may not be included. If it is, it can be found in Item 1 - the Business Section and   sometimes in the Balance Sheet.

Competition / Strategy
- Like Marketing this is something that may or may not be included and once again like marketing will be in Item 1 -   the Business Description.

Intangibles External Link
- This is something that will vary but financially it will be found in the Balance sheet, though it may be discussed in   Item 1 or the Management Discussion & Analysis, and possibly the Financial Footnotes.

Inventories External Link
- Information on Inventories can be found in the same places as business lines and in the Balance Sheet.

Goodwill External Link
- This is another that may or may not be included, if it is, the financial information will be in the Balance Sheet.

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Electronic--Fee-Based Services

Many of the following electronic sources, like Hoover's, have a free and for fee component. However, other sources are completely fee based.

Business Insights: Global (Gale)

This database, often found in public libraries, offers much information on large public companies. The introductory screen provides the same basic company information found in many sources. However, this database also offers many different tabs for more specialized information, including rankings, investment house reports, news (also grouped by topic), histories, financials, products, industry overview (by SIC - links to overviews by SIC and market overviews), and related associations.

Mergent Online. External Link

A subscription database that provides U.S. company data for over 15,000 public companies and their SEC filings and U.S. annual reports. Also contains International company data for approximately 17,000 companies, including international annual reports, factsheets, and country information.

Standard & Poor's NetAdvantage.

Information for the investor on markets and the economy. Includes data and analysis of industries, companies, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, indexes, and current news. Net Advantage contains the following S&P publications: Bond Guide Mutual Fund Reports, Corporation Records The Outlook, Dividend Record Register of Corporations, Earnings Guide Stock Guide, and Industry Surveys Stock Reports.

Last Updated: 09/25/2018

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