AMBROGI LAW OFFICE > ARTICLES
Useful Sources for Company Research
By Robert J. Ambrogi
Whether you are a litigator or a dealmaker, easy access to company information is one of the most significant ways the Internet has changed the way you practice law. In an instant, we can profile a company's business, evaluate its financial health and identify its principal officers and executives, something we could not easily do just a decade ago.
Much of the credit for this transformation is due to the Securities and Exchange Commission and its EDGAR database - short for Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval - through which companies file annual reports and other disclosure documents. EDGAR is the preeminent source of company information on the Internet. Updated in real time, it can be used to retrieve any document filed electronically with the SEC since January 1, 1994.
Company filings were not always so easy to obtain. In the early 1990s, electronic access to EDGAR was available only through paid, proprietary databases. In 1994, a non-profit group, partly funded by the National Science Foundation, broke new ground when it began offering free access to EDGAR over the Internet. But a year later, as the project's funding ran low, it appeared public access to EDGAR would again be cut off. In a move unusual at the time, the SEC stepped in and took over management of the Internet database, forever changing the face of company research.
While EDGAR is groundbreaking, it is not perfect, particularly for power searchers who want more sophisticated options for culling information from corporate filings. Several sites now offer advanced tools for searching and keeping current with EDGAR filings.
One such better-than-EDGAR site is 10k Wizard. It creates a superior interface by combining real-time access with full-text searching. Search for companies not just by symbol, as at the SEC site, but also by partial company name. You can search all filings in full text, allowing you to scan EDGAR for words, phrases and names. Users can develop and store their own portfolios of searches that monitor new SEC filings as they are received and notify the user by e-mail when a filing meets the search criteria. For large searches, 10k Wizard's XLS Snapshot converts your search results into an Excel worksheet with live links to filings. The $150 annual subscription allows unlimited access and unlimited downloads.
Another top-notch destination for EDGAR research is EDGAR Online, despite a sometimes confusing case of multiple personality disorder. Several years ago, EDGAR Online, a subscription-based service, purchased Free Edgar, a free service, and then added IPO Express, a related but still different service. If you go to EDGAR Online, you find no mention of Free Edgar, but go to Free Edgar and you find yourself frequently directed back into EDGAR Online. One can become exhausted trying to sort through the differences between the sites, because nowhere they clearly explained.
As you might expect, the differences are in price and features. EDGAR Online requires a subscription, currently $44.85 a quarter, while Free Edgar is, as the name suggests, free. Free EDGAR allows searches by company name and ticker symbol and shows the current day's filings. EDGAR Online allows more sophisticated full-text concept and keyword searching. Beyond searching, EDGAR Online offers a variety of extras, including a personalized Watchlist delivered by e-mail and the ability to create a portfolio of up to 25 companies to track, with real-time e-mail notification of new filings matching your criteria.
Like other EDGAR search services, Livedgar, from Global Securities Information, features full-text searching, preformatted searching, and downloading of documents in word processing format. What distinguishes Livedgar from its competitors is its greater scope. It lists all SEC filings dating back to 1967, provides more than 100,000 annual reports from 30,000 companies in 106 countries, includes the complete collection of SEDAR filings, and allows online access to paper filings such as no-action letters. The pay-as-you-go cost is $10 per log-on, then $1.75 a minute. GSI also offers flat-rate plans at negotiated rates.
For corporate filings from Canadian companies, SEDAR is Canada's answer to EDGAR. Short for System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval, SEDAR is the system used for electronically filing most securities-related information with the Canadian securities regulatory authorities. Filing with SEDAR started Jan. 1, 1997, and is now mandatory for most reporting issuers in Canada. Visitors to the site can search the entire database of filings, including all documents starting in 1997 and continuing up to the close of the most recently completed business day.
Beyond EDGAR, a number of Web sites provide more general overviews of public and sometimes private companies. One of the most established of these is Hoovers Online. Hoovers' "company capsules" provide essential information on more than 50,000 public and private companies, including current financials and key competitors. Subscribers receive access to in-depth company information, including historical financials, reports on the competitive landscape, and overviews of products and operations. A basic "Hoover's Lite" subscription for an individual is $399 a year, with advanced subscriptions available to corporate and business customers.
Corporate Information provides a comprehensive set of well organized links to business research information on the Web. It has a search engine with links to more than 350,000 company profiles located at other sites, plus its own research reports on more than 15,000 companies. Its sponsor, Wright Investment Services, publishes research information on more than 20,000 companies worldwide, including more than a decade of historical data. The site blends these resources to enable multi-faceted research into companies and industries. Search for information on a specific company, or research any of 30 industries in some 65 countries.
Another site built around links to corporate information available elsewhere on the Web is CEOExpress. It provides an index of links to a range of business news and information on the Web, with categories such as company research, quotes and market news, bankruptcies, IPO research, law, banking, small business, and more.
A variety of free and paid company research tools is available from The Corporate Library. The most comprehensive feature is Board Analyst, which, in its paid version, provides coverage of more than 2,000 U.S. companies and 500 of the largest international companies. Coverage includes CEO compensation policies and practices, including, when available, links to the full text of the CEO's employment agreement; and names of all directors and their committee assignments, along with individual director profiles and, in most cases, contact information. Other resources include databases of corporate governance policies and shareholder proposals.
Formerly called The Annual Report Gallery, AnnualReports.com indexes annual reports from most publicly traded companies. The site is not itself a source of these reports; rather, it links to the reports contained on the companies' own Web sites. Companies are listed by name, ticker symbol, exchange, industry and sector. For each, the site includes links to the company's recent annual reports and 10K filings, usually in a choice of either html or PDF format.
Much the same idea is Annual Report Service, a site that indexes annual reports by company and links to full reports on the companies' Web sites. The site requires registration, although it is free.
For information about a company's financial stability, visit D&B Express Online. Here you can purchase a variety of Dun & Bradstreet credit reports for businesses, with a comprehensive report on a company's finances costing $121.99. The site claims to have credit and financial information on "millions" of businesses worldwide.
Another source of credit information is Standard & Poor's. Its free Credits Ratings Search enables you to look up the current S&P ratings for issuers, instruments and bond funds. You can also look up corporate governance scores and servicer evaluations.
For performing research on a company, these sites are merely enough to get you started. Thorough investigation should start with a general search engine such as Google and then continue through sites with information on court filings and decisions, bankruptcies, and government enforcement actions, to mention just a few.