A: Annual reports. Quarterly reports. Proxy statements. These are just a few of the financial documents companies provide to investors that reveal their internal workings.
Sadly, few investors take the time to even glance at these documents, which are some of the most critical. Companies must disclose essential data about their operations, financial standing, risks and even executive compensation in these reports.
Financial reports previously were required to be mailed to shareholders. When that was the case, even the least-interested investors would have trouble ignoring these massive documents when they landed in the mailbox.
But in the era of investment documents being distributed electronically, it’s easy for investors to overlook financial reports. Yet the Securities and Exchange Commission makes nearly all company financial reports available, for free. The SEC’s Edgar system is an online database that allows investors to view or download the financial statements issued by thousands of companies.
The SEC’s website, while powerful and comprehensive, isn’t designed for casual investors. Some users might get confused with some of the navigation of the site and have trouble finding the financial documents they’re interested in.
There are some alternatives for investors who want to read financial reports, but might be confused by the SEC’s site, including:
• The company’s investors relations website. Most large companies maintain a stand-alone area on their website that houses all the key financial statements. You’ll find earnings press releases and the key financial documents, including the annual report. Some companies will also provide transcripts from conference calls and investor presentations. General Electric, for instance, lists all stock information and financial data on its website.
Be careful, though. When investing in companies, especially smaller firms that don’t have the same oversight from regulators and auditors, make sure the documents are available on the SEC’s website also. You want to make sure you’re reading actual documents that were filed with the SEC, not fabricated documents that were simply posted to a website.
• Third-party sites that access Edgar. There are websites that link into the SEC’s Edgar database. These websites typically feature a more user-friendly or powerful website that then taps into the Edgar database. There are a number of services that are aimed at professionals and charge a fee, including Morningstar Document Research.
One free option for individual investors is last10k.com. The site is designed to be more familiar to individual investors and use a more standard method of navigation. Just go to the site and enter the symbol or name of a company. You can then select the type of report, 10-K (annual report) or 10-Q (quarterly report) you’re interested in and the time frame.
• Aggregation services. Sometimes investors don’t need to actually access the original document. There are websites and services that pull all the key numbers out of financial statements and present them all in one place. Many sites do this, including USATODAY.com’s Money section at money.usatoday.com.
Start at money.usatoday.com. Scroll down and enter the symbol of the stock you’re interested to learn about in the “Get A Quote” box, and click go. The Quote tab will give you dividend information, operating margin, total debt and other summary information. Click on the analysis tab, and you can see a breakdown of the company’s earnings.
Matt Krantz is a financial markets reporter at USA TODAY and author of Investing Online for Dummies and Fundamental Analysis for Dummies. He answers a different reader question every weekday in his Ask Matt column at money.usatoday.com. To submit a question, e-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matt on Twitter at: twitter.com/mattkrantz