information for investors: Edgar vs. the company website


The Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR) system of the SEC is maintained in an online database that contains all the filings the regulator requires from publicly traded companies–and some others.  The top 10,000 companies by market capitalization can be searched for by ticker symbol.  Documents, including 10Ks and 10Qs (annual and quarterly earnings statements, respectively), can also be searched for by industry or by time period.  Since most companies make all their filings electronically directly into the database, EDGAR is up-to-date, as of the prior day at 5:30 pm.  Most important, the database is available to anyone, and is free.

Bookmark this site. It probably the single most important source of information a US-based investor can have.

accessing EDGAR

1.  The link above will bring you to a page on the SEC website titled “Filings and Forms.”

2.  Click on the second choice in red, “Search for Company filings.”

This will take you to a page titled “Search the Next-Generation EDGAR system.”

3.  From the first list in red, click the first item:  “Company or fund name, ticker symbol….”

This brings you to the Company search page.

4.  Enter the company name or ticker symbol in the appropriate place in the blue search box to access all company filings in time order, with the most recent filings first.

You can also get a general introduction to the EDGAR system by clicking the red link under the topic “Other Resources” on the Search the Next-Generation EDGAR system page.

why is EDGAR so valuable?

It’s the wealth of detailed company information it contains (in tomorrow’s post I’ll go into more detail about the 10K and proxy, which I consider the most important).  In the early 1990s I was hired by a fund management company to reestablish a global equity investing effort that had suffered through a long period of underperformance.

In those (pre-internet) days, companies filed their SEC-mandated disclosures in Washington, DC, in person and on paper.  Brokerage houses stationed research or trading assistants armed with cellphones at the SEC to make copies of expected filings, read them quickly and phone information to their research departments or trading desks.  Sounds crazy today, but that’s what people did.

On the buy side, people like me thought this was an unnecessary expense.  Instead, we would receive the reports, about six weeks after filing, on microfiche from a third-party data service that had a contract with the SEC.  A library of past filings + updates cost $125,000 a year.  In today’s dollars, that would be about $250,000.  And, of course, you’d have to be at work to access the data.

The high cost of data access represented a huge competitive disadvantage for individuals, no matter how intelligent or highly motivated, versus professionals whose size allowed them to afford it.

That’s no longer the case.  Anyone with internet access can look at the data any time of night or day–for free.

vs. the company website

The investor relations section of most company websites provides a direct link to EDGAR. Some companies, however, provide only PDFs of selected documents.  This really doesn’t make much difference, since EDGAR is only a couple of clicks away.  It’s just something to be aware of.

The company website does have a number of items of interest that I think are useful and that would be hard to find elsewhere.  They include:

–a description, with pictures, of company products and services.  This can be helpful if they are highly specialized or technical in nature.  Remember, though, that the website is a marketing tool.  So you have to take what’s said their with a grain of salt.  There probably won’t be a comparison with competitors’ offerings.  Take a peak at the Nokia site, for example.  I haven’t looked hard, but I don’t see anything about GOOG or AAPL eating their lunch.

–a place to sign up for email receipt of documents and press releases, and notification of webcasts,

–a library of webcasts of past presentations at investor conferences and earnings conference calls, plus a place to listen to upcoming ones in real time.  There may be PDFs of handouts, as well.  Webcasts are particularly useful, although you can easily find transcripts at, say, Seeking Alpha.  Seeking Alpha has pretty weak analytic content, in my opinion, but you can’t complain about a free transcript of an hour-long call that you can read in 10-15 minutes.

–a library of past press releases, plus PDFs of past annual reports, all in one place (more about annuals in tomorrow’s post),

–the name, email address and phone number of an investor relations contact.   I’ve found that IR departments vary greatly in their attitude toward individual investors who call with questions.  If you can demonstrate that you have an intelligent question, that you’ve read the pertinent company documents and are sincerely interested in the answer, you’ll probably be treated well.  If you’re not, it may be an expression of the company attitude toward shareholders.  But it could equally well be that the IR people don’t know much.  In either case, you’ll have learned something.

As a simple contrast between the two, the EDGAR data are intended to inform and the website data are intended to persuade.  More about this difference in tomorrow’s post about the 10K vs. the annual report.







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