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A Guide to Finding Business Information at the Library of Congress

II. Researching the Companies

For additional information on this topic, please see the guide Doing Company Research Library of Congress. Business Reference Services.

Many of the business reference questions asked at the Library of Congress are concerned with particular business firms or firms within a given category. Published information about companies is limited and can usually be derived from two sources: information that is revealed by the company itself, or information that is gathered and published outside of the company.

The first category is comprised of data from annual reports, corporate filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as other government agencies, and press releases. The second category is comprised of articles in the press, corporate research reports, market studies and analyses conducted by trade associations and/or government agencies. Most published business reference works contain information gathered from one or both of these categories. Due to the narrow range of sources, many business reference books offer the same information in a variety of ways.

If one keeps these two major sources of business information firmly in mind, it is easy to conduct a thorough, systematic search for published information available in the Library. It may be helpful to seek out additional or more recent information directly from trade associations and government agencies.

While it is relatively simple to locate published information about publicly held U.S. companies, information on privately-held companies can be very difficult to compile. The first step is to determine whether the company is publicly owned or privately held. Ward's Business Directory and Dun and Bradstreet's Million Dollar Directory both denote public or private ownership. If a firm is identified as a public company, finding detailed information is usually a straightforward task. At the Library of Congress, consult the Compact Disclosure/Sec CD-ROM on the Business Network in the Business Reading Room for detailed financial information. Consult also the SEC File for microfiche copies of annual reports, 10-k's and proxy statements which are all full text.

Moody's manuals excerpt financial data from 10-k's. These manuals are served by a convenient single-volume index. Standard & Poor's Corporation Records also provide extensive background information and news about public companies. One can also search newspaper and periodical indexes to see what sort of publicity a company has received in the press. Private companies are not obligated to divulge financial information to the public. Articles on such companies that appear in newspapers and periodicals may therefore be the only readily available sources of information.

The following are key sources used to initiate research on companies:

Annual Reports and Other Corporate Documents

Corporations themselves are valuable sources of financial and operational information. Federal securities laws require uniform and formal disclosure in a series of public documents. Many corporations issue glossy annual reports in addition to the required filings accessible to the public via the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Library of Congress does not attempt to duplicate riches found in the Public Reference Room of the Securities and Exchange Commission (450 Fifth Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20549). For researchers it does, however, maintain a limited set of microfiche editions of filings of selected companies, as well as an ever-expanding file of hard copy annual reports from Washington, D.C.-area businesses.

As public relations organs, annual reports to shareholders are both attractive and useful publications issued by most corporations. Free copies of these reports are nearly always provided promptly in response to a written request or telephone call to the shareholder relations office. Librarians at public and university libraries, and at the Library of Congress, can point out sources listing addresses and telephone numbers for requesting these reports.

The "Report of Independent Accountants" which appears at the back of annual reports is of special interest. It sets forth the auditor's opinion and, for a healthy company, should be unreservedly glowing. Any indication of reluctance or reservation can indicate serious problems, and the absence of an auditors' opinion is indicative of a red alert. A researcher should pay close attention to footnotes, for they can refer to pending legal matters. Annual reports include a balance sheet (the financial picture at a given moment: assets, cash, IOU's, inventory, property); an income statement (the year's financial events: what profits and losses and from what sources); a statement of change in financial position; and review of new income per share of stock covering a ten-year period.

10-K: These reports include information about products, services, markets, methods of distribution, estimated cost of research, total sales, and net income for each line of business; the per-share earnings and dividends, and reasons for substantial changes therein; properties, parents and subsidiaries, legal proceedings pending, and more. Reports may be obtained from the SEC.

10-Q: Although unaudited, these quarterly reports update the 10-Ks three times per year.

8-K: Irregular documents signaling "unscheduled material changes" such as name changes or bankruptcies.

10-C: The "8-K" for over-the-counter (OTC) companies.

Proxy Statements: Designed for shareholders who cannot attend annual meetings, the statements may include biographical information about officers, or information concerning any pending issues to be brought to vote.

Registration Statement: These statements provide current information filed in anticipation of issuing stock.

Corporate Research Reports and Market Studies

Highly desirable business information is included in corporate research reports and market studies. These terms, often used interchangeably, describe similar specialized surveys. In both instances market analysts "follow" a company, a group of companies, or an industry, and produce sophisticated, in-depth analytical research which often results in evaluative conclusions or well-reasoned predictions.

Normally, these reports are prepared for internal use, but after the company has used the information, such reports may be made available to a wider audience, often for a fee. Some of these, in the form of "market letters" running to only one or two pages, are provided for distribution to anyone who can cover the subscription rates which can be thousands of dollars. The holdings of the Library of Congress do not include a complete collection of these reports. It does have a number of them, however, as well as several reference sources that are useful in identifying and gaining access to these reports:

Directory of U.S. and Canadian marketing surveys and services.  --
Bridgewater, N.J. [etc.] : Rauch Associates [etc.].
                                                                  
                                           HF5413.3.D56 Ref Desk


Findex. --  Bethesda, MD : NSA Directories. -- Annual.
                                                                  
                                           HF5415.2.F55 Ref Desk

         A bibliography of corporate research reports and market
studies.  The Library of Congress does not have all of the reports
cited.  Readers should choose several potentially useful reports
and check the Library's MUMS database (not SCORPIO) to see which
studies the Library has acquired.


Wall Street transcript. -- New York : Wall Street Transcript Corp.
-- Weekly.
                                                                  
                                           Microfilm 02719 HG

         This self-indexed (the index cumulates) tabloid
publication excerpts corporate research reports and market studies.


A thorough researcher needs to use this in addition to Findex. 
Very few recent issues are shelved in the first room of the
Business Reading Room, but a full run of previous issues is
available on microform in the Microform Reading Room.  A full set
for the most recent year is held in the Newspaper and Current
Periodical Reading Room.

Standard Industrial Classification Code Listings

         Whether their focus is industry, a company, or a product,
most business directories are arranged according to a structured
numeric code called the Standard Industrial Classification and
known as SIC codes.  At first the coding system seems complicated,
but it actually simplifies business research by standardizing the
descriptions of types of businesses, thus making statistical
analysis possible. The SIC system was devised by the federal
government in the 1930s and 40s and is revised every decade or so
to reflect broad changes in U.S.industry (such as the shift from
manufactures to services, the advent of electronics and robotics).

         The codes are useful for classifying and identifying
products with considerable detail.  Without this system, each
publisher of business directories would have to devise a separate
system of organization; directories would be more difficult to use
and statistics would be nearly impossible to compile or compare. 
Because of the SIC system most business directories are
standardized, having alphabetic, geographic, and SIC code indexes.
Thus one can look up a particular company or industry by name, by
state or region to find all companies or industries operating
within a given geographic area, or by a certain SIC code to find
all companies producing a particular product, or all of the
companies participating in a particular industry.

         Most directories classify products (and thus the producing
companies) using a four-digit SIC code.  Some go even further,
using a more specific five- or seven-digit code. These codes read
from left to right, going from broadest to narrowest designation. 
The various digits and their placement have a particular meaning. 
For example, the code 2679 denotes wallpaper manufacturing: the
first two digits (26) indicate the major industry group, paper
manufacturing.  The third digit (7) narrows the field to the
manufacture of converted paper and paperboard products.  Nine is
the number that specifically identifies the code as wall paper. The
code can be even further refined: 2679328 represents textured
wallpaper manufacturers, and 2679325 represents laminated
wallpaper manufacturers.

         The code 5812 designates the restaurant business: 58
signifies retail eating and drinking places; 5812 indicates "eating
places" specifically.  Even more specifically, 5812020 denotes
fast-food restaurants.  (Caution: If a directory or other business
source was published before the latter part of 1987, it will use
the 1972 SIC structure.  The 1972 SIC manual and its 1977
supplement are shelved in the Business Reference Room under
this same call number).

         The Business Reading Room has several important sources
that list and identify SIC codes:

Basebook / Predicasts, inc. -- Cleveland, Ohio : Predicasts, inc.
-- Annual.                                                                  
                                                  HA214.P73a

         Of the many directories that incorporate SIC codes into
their arrangement, this has the most detailed SIC code list.

Standard industrial classification manual: 1987 / [prepared by the]
Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget.
-- [Washington, D.C.?] ; Springfield, Va : The Office [Supt. of
Docs., U.S. G.P.O. distributor] : For sale by National Technical
Information Service, 1987. -- 705 pp.
                                                                  
                                      HF1042.S73 1987 Ref Desk

         The entire numeric system is outlined in the front of this
book.  The remainder of the book contains an alphabetical list of
industries with their SIC codes.
        

Subscription Databases

A variety of subscription databases are available to researchers onsite at the Library, which can also provide users with financial and directory information about companies in the United States and abroad, including ABI-Inform, Business and Company Resource Center, Business Reference Suite, Factiva, Million Dollar Directory, ReferenceUSA, Mergent,and the Wilson Databases.

 

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  November 9, 2010
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