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How to find Information on a Public Company


Before you start

Please remember that the librarians in the Business Department will be glad to help you at any stage of this process. This guide describes some standard tools for investigating publicly owned companies; however, new books and new Internet sites come to our attention all the time. If you did not find the company or information you hoped for, or if you would like some help getting started in any aspect of public company research, please stop by the business reference desk or call us at (412) 281-7141.

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What is a public company?

Public companies are more accurately called publicly owned companies in that any member of the general public may purchase a share--an actual piece of ownership--in that company. Shares (commonly called stocks) are traded on a public exchange. The three best known exchanges are the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the American Stock Exchange (AMEX) and the NASDAQ (often referred to as over-the-counter or OTC, although the complete over-the-counter market is much broader than the NASDAQ.)

A variety of regulations govern how public companies operate and how their shares can be sold. The U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires companies to reveal detailed information about the operations and finances of their business. Public companies also have a vested interest in convincing you, the potential investor, to choose their particular stock and so they release a great deal of information about their activities. Furthermore, investment brokerage and management companies, financial publications, and data gathering firms have an active interest in getting company information to potential investors because this helps to create a market for their services.

These factors combine to make it much easier to locate detailed information about a public company’s operations than would be possible for even a very large privately held company. Below you will find several suggested resources and methodologies for sorting through the available information to find what you need.

When you begin to research a public company you should first frame your questions: what do you wish to know about this company?

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Is my company really a public company?

This is the first question to ask. Increasingly, the Internet is the first place to look for this information. Try looking for the company name at one of these sites:

biz.yahoo.com/i/
www.hoovers.com

If these sources do not produce a result, the most reliable and comprehensive listing of publicly traded companies is:

The National Semi-Annual Stock Summary (current issue at reference desk, back issues in the 2nd floor reference area.) Pink Sheets, LLC publishesthis title monthly, but the most useful issues are the sixth month semi-annual books dated for January and July of each year. All currently traded public companies should be listed in this book. You will find the name, address, and phone number of the public company plus information on the types of stock they have outstanding. As a rule, companies whose names do not appear in the Stock Summary are very unlikely to be publicly traded. (Issues of this publication prior to January 2001 will show the National Quotation Bureau as the publisher).

If you need a little more detail you may wish to consult The Corporate Directory of U.S. Public Companies (reference desk) from Walker’s Research. This directory contains listings for more than 10,000 publicly held U.S. corporations and provides an excellent nutshell description of each.

Another useful title is the Directory of Corporate Affiliations (reference desk), a five-volume set that includes an extensive master index. The volumes on U.S. public companies and international public and private companies will help you identify a company and its subsidiaries. Using these books you may be able to determine if a larger public or private company owns the company you wish to find. The international volume identifies instances where a U.S. company has an overseas parent. The U.S. Private Companies volume covers mainly larger companies — but it may be a useful place to confirm that a company is private.

Dun & Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Directory (room reference) is another multi-volume set. Public and private companies are arranged alphabetically. Publicly traded companies are identified in the text with a a small black triangle next to the company name. Companies that have a a small black square next to their name are subsidiaries of a public company. The Million Dollar Directory supplies corporate name and address, a sales figure, control date (this is the date the current ownership or structure was established but not necessarily how long the firm has been in business), and the names of top officers of the corporation. Indexes by geography and industrial classification are included. (This directory is also available on CD-ROM.)

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Who are the officers of this public company?

One of the best places to find this information is in the Directory of Corporate Affiliations as described above. Other sources include the Corporate Directory of U.S. Public Companies, the Million Dollar Directory (see above), or the appropriate Mergent Manual (see below- room reference.) Company annual reports and SEC filings (see SEC Edgar below) also have this information, as may company websites and other investment resources and online services. Please ask at the reference desk for other suggestions.

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What is the financial condition of this public company?

The Internet has revolutionized the process of investigating a public company. In the past one had to rely on expensive financial services to find balance sheets and other performance data, but today that information is as close as the nearest Internet terminal. The first place to start is SEC Edgar, a database from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most public companies in the United States now file all of their "SEC documents" electronically with the government and these are made available almost immediately on the SEC’s web site. The most important of these documents is the "10K" form which is the annual report that a company must file with the government. This report is often more detailed than the annual report sent to shareholders because of reporting requirements. 10Q forms are quarterly reports. Another important form is the DEF-14. This is the proxy statement sent to shareholders each year and includes important information such as compensation of top executives, possible consolidations or mergers, legal issues, and many other important items for which corporate management needs the approval of the company’s owners- the shareholders. A great deal of valuable analytical material can be derived from these and other SEC documents. An excellent description of useful forms and their contents is found in The New Competitor Intelligence by Leonard Fuld, which is kept at the business reference desk.

A variety of free and fee-based Internet Services are also excellent sources of information about companies. These sites can include everything from almost real-time stock quotes to performance charts to wire service news reports with up to the minute news about a company. Among the most useful sites are:

Yahoo Finance which features stock quotes, stock charts, current news, and other informationon companies. Users of this service can also register for free to create and track investment portfolios. This is an outstanding "one-stop" site for investigating public companies.

CBS Marketwatch
CNN The Financial Network
These services provide current news stories on deals, companies, and stocks.

There are many other helpful services on the World Wide Web. For a more comprehensive list please consult the Business Department’s guide to Business Sources on the Internet

For quick comparisons between several companies, or for a brief snapshot of company performance, print resources are still an excellent choice. They include:
Mergent Manuals- Bank & Finance, Industrial, International, Municipal & Government, OTC, Public Utilities, Transportation, Unlisted OTC, Company Archives (room reference) - list detailed mergers and name change histories, subsidiary lists, properties owned, balance sheets (financial data) and stock and bond (capitalization) information. Note: These manuals were once known as Moody’s -- a name with a century old tradition in the business information industry. Most business and information professionals will still refer to these as Moody’s, but references to Mergent are increasingly likely.

Standard & Poor’s Corporation Records (room reference) offers comprehensive financial histories for over 9,000 companies including balance sheets, capitalization, capital changes, etc.

The Standard & Poor’s Stock Guide (current issue reference desk) is issued monthly with single line summaries of stock performance listed in columns according to various factors.

The Standard & Poor’s Stock Reports (reference desk) include detailed summary financial statements and recent developments about a broad range of companies. Companies are arranged alphabetically in three volumes and each one-page report offers an excellent "nutshell" description of a company and its business activities.

The Value Line Investment Survey (reference desk) has one-page company summaries with an 11-year statistical history for 22 key investment factors, forecasts for the next three to five years and other information. The Value Line can be a valuable tool for predicting future performance.

Annual Reports (reference desk) Companies produce these documents to send to their shareholders. In addition to comprehensive financial statements, annual reports offer information about a company’s plans and current performance. Our holdings vary; we try to maintain current annual reports for many companies and current and back issues for local public companies.

Some annual reports are also available on line at report gallery or you can order a free copy of an annual report for over 3,600 public companies from Yahoo!Finance and the World Investor Link or from prars.

Many companies also maintain web sites with annual reports or other financial information. Look for a link such as "for investors," "shareholder relations," or "about the company." To find a companys website,this format often works:

http://www.companyname.com, as in http://www.dell.com or http://www.att.com and so on.
If this does not work, try searching for the company name at the following site:
Yahoo Business and Economy
For local Pittsburgh companies, see our Directory of Pittsburgh Company Websites. Not every company will have a web site and not every web site will have financial information.

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What are the details regarding stock splits, dividends, mergers, etc. that involved this company or its predecessors?
What if this public company no longer exists?

Public companies can go out of business or be taken over by other companies in the same way that private companies can; however, it is easier to find the particulars of the transactions. (Also see the section on Historical Stock Research below.) Many companies share profits with their owners (stockholders) in the form of dividends- a certain amount of money per share paid on a regular basis. On some occasions public companies will distribute new shares of stock to their shareholders on a proportional basis (e.g. 2 for 1, 3 for 2, etc.) in what is termed a stock split. Details of these types of transactions can be uncovered in the following sources:
The Capital Changes Reporter (reference desk) from Commerce Clearing House is a multi-volume set and an authoritative source for information on corporate dissolutions, mergers and acquisitions and the effects they had on stock, as well as stock splits. There are some tricks to using this title so please ask one of our librarians for a quick tutorial. This loose-leaf service is updated weekly. (Ask at the reference desk regarding access to the CD-ROM of Capital Changers Reporter.)

The Directory of Obsolete Securities (Annual Guide to Stocks) (current volume at reference desk) from Financial Information Inc. is a single volume directory that "contains a brief profile of companies whose original identities have been lost as a result of one or more of the following actions: change in name, merger, acquisition, dissolution, reorganization, bankruptcy, or charter cancellation." (Also see the section on Historical Stock Research below.)

Mergent Manuals (room reference)Especially useful here will be the new Mergent Company Archives manual, which contains the final record of over 2,700 companies which have merged, were acquired, went bankrupt, or disappeared by going private since 1996.

Standard & Poor’s Corporation Records (room reference)
Described above.

Mergent Dividend Record (room reference- updated weekly)
Standard and Poor’s Dividend Record (room reference-quarterly updates)
These are two services that list dividend payments for U.S. companies (arranged alphabetically by company). Keep in mind that not all companies pay dividends.

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What about bonds?

Shares of stock are not the only financial instruments companies use. Another one, common to larger companies is the corporate bond. Bonds are a class of corporate debt instruments that can go by several names including bond, note, debenture, sinking fund debenture, etc. Investing in the bond market requires some understanding so please feel free to ask at the reference desk for assistance in learning about this area of investing. Information about corporate bonds can be found in the following sources:
Mergent Bond Record (current issue at the reference desk; back issues room reference) Issued monthly, this service has month-end prices for U.S. corporate bonds. It also has Moody’s (rating information is still provided to Mergent by Moody’s) credit worthiness ratings and some other information on corporate, convertible, government and municipal bonds and other debt instruments. Bond yield information is also available.

Monthly issues of the Standard & Poor’s Bond Guide (current issue at the reference desk) have single line summaries of U.S. corporate bonds, including month-end prices and other performance and yield information. Some foreign bonds are also listed with month-end prices.

The Mergent Manuals and Standard & Poor’s Corporation Records (room reference-see description above) list the particulars of issued bonds and also call notices, etc.

The Semi-Annual Bond Summary (room reference), published twice a year by the National Quotation Bureau, provides a comprehensive listing of currently traded corporate bonds with some pricing information. This book will also tell you if a bond has been called and lists the terms of the call.

Selected corporate bonds are also listed daily in the Wall Street Journal and weekly in Barron’s, but this is only a small fraction of the total market. U.S. Government agency obligations and municipal bonds are another matter altogether, please bring your questions about them to the reference desk.

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What is the history of this company? What are they doing now?

The International Directory of Company Histories (reference desk) is a growing set of volumes which offers very useful descriptions of the histories of many major corporations. Entries are updated as things change so the best way to use this set is to check the company index in the latest volume.

The Gale Group InfoTrac Business and Company Resource Center is an online periodical database that provides company profiles, articles about companies and industries,and brokerage reports on companies and industries. It is the place to locate background and context information on a company, its industry, competitors, etc. Search for the company name.

EBSCOhost is another full-text database of periodical articles about companies and industries. Although there is some overlap with Infotrac, a thorough search will include both databases. For best results, choose both the MasterFILE Premier and the Business Source Elite databases.

Tip: If you have a current Electronic Information Network library card, you may also access InfoTrac SearchBank and EBSCOhost from your home or office computer. For additional databases available see our Electronic Databases page.

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What do analysts think of this stock?

Two of the best known stock analysis services are Standard & Poor’s Stock Reports and The Value Line Investment Survey as listed above. S&P also publishes a weekly newsletter called The Outlook which is available at the reference desk, as are several other financial newsletters. For a description of these services please see Investment Newsletters.

The Infotrac Business and Company Resource Center (see description above) also contains full reports from investment firms such as PaineWebber, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and Merrill Lynch. A list of Internet-based research and analysis services is available under Investments in our listing of Business Sources on the Internet. Two sites worthy of mention are:

Yahoo!Finance Look up an individual company by ticker symbol and then click on the link for research. A vast array of financial news and other information of analytical value is also available from the comprehensive financial site.

Zacks Investment Research offers free consensus opinions of buy, hold or sell recommendations for many stocks (and also many impressive services for which they charge a fee).

You may also wish to do your own technical analysis. The Business Department has several books to help you get started including:

HG 4529.K54 1998x
Getting Started In Security Analysis by Peter J. Klein

HG 4028.B2 G72 1998
The Interpretation of Financial Statements by Benjamin Graham and Spencer B. Meredith

rHG 4521.E38 1997
Technical Analysis of Stock Trends by Robert D. Edwards and John Magee

For other books on this subject check our online catalog and search under these subjects: Investment Analysis, Securities-Research, and Portfolio Management.

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How can I compare performance to other companies and the whole industry?

This type of comparison is often done using financial ratios. Three standard sources of industrial ratios, issued annually, are listed below. Not every industry is covered in each book so you may need to check each one or you may need to use a broader industry classification.
rq HF 5681.B2
RMA Annual Statement Studies by the Risk Management Association. This is often called "Robert Morris" after the association's previous name Robert Morris Associates, and is the most popular of th three.

rq HF 5681.R25
Industry Norms and Key Business Ratios by Dun &Bradstreet, is broken down into several volumes by industry type.

rq HF5681.R25
Almanac of Business and Industrial Financial Ratios by Leo Troy, is often called "Troy;" it covers certain industries the other two do not.

This type of research is very complex. You will need your company’s SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) and/or NAICS (North American Industrial Classification System)code and detailed financial data about your company to make these comparisons. These code numbers can be found in a number of directories including the Million Dollar Directory, Directory of Corporate Affiliations, among others. For more information on the codes themselves ask at the reference desk for the SIC manual or NAICSmanual. NAICS (pronounced "nakes" as in "snakes") codes are gradually replacing SIC codes for all uses; however, the two systems will likely coexist for a while and the methods of analysis will remain the same even as the codes change.

Other sources for industry information with comparisons of the public companies involved include the Mergent Industry Review, The Value Line Investment Survey,and Standard & Poor’s Industry Surveys (all at the reference desk).

To locate general information on an industry as a whole, please consult How to Find Information on an Industry: Search Strategies and Selected Resources.

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Historical stock research
Are these certificates from my grandparent's attic worth anything?

The rule of thumb here is that the older the certificates are the harder it is to find a firm answer. However, there are some excellent sources. Before you begin to search, check your stock certificates for the following information: the date the certificates were issued, the exact name of the company, and the state in which the company was incorporated. Then check the following:
The Scudder/Fisher Manual of Valuable and Worthless Securities (room reference) This is the source for companies from early in the century - especially those issued before the 1929 stock market crash. Begin with Volume IV (1934) and look for information or a reference to volumes I, II, or III. Volume IX is the next index volume, and for mining companies you should also check the Fisher Mining Manual which is incorporated in Volume VII.

The Directory of Obsolete Securities (Annual Guide to Stocks) (current volume at reference desk) from Financial Information Inc. is a single volume directory that "contains a brief profile of companies whose original identities have been lost as a result of one or more of the following actions: change in name, merger, acquisition, dissolution, reorganization, bankruptcy, or charter cancellation." This service is most useful for stocks issued since the 1970’s. We have back issues to 1972 although we do not have every intervening year. However, information on older stocks is incorporated in the first few volumes and company information is carried for several years.

The National Stock Summary from Pink Sheets, LLC (see description above) is issued every six months. We have back issues back to the 1920’s (when the service was called Standard Stock Offerings) with some earlier volumes as well. When a company does not appear in either of the services listed above, you may be able to track it by looking in the volume for the approximate date your certificates were issued and then moving forward in time looking for notations about name changes, bankruptcies, delistings, etc.

The Capital Changes Reporter (reference desk) from Commerce Clearing House is most useful in tracking recently issued and currently active stocks but does contain some historical information as well. There are some tricks to using this title, so please ask one of our librarians for a quick tutorial when you pick them up from the reference desk. We also have the CD-ROM of this service so please be sure to check with a librarian if you don't find your company or if the page you need is missing.

Mergent Manuals(room reference) Especially useful here will be the new Mergent Company Archivesmanual, which contains the final record of over 2,700 companies which have merged, were acuqired, went bankrupt, or disappeared by going private since 1996.

Old Moody’s and Poor’s books. We have these directories of companies for nearly every year back to 1924. The older issues are located on the lower level of the library. It is sometimes possible to find out when a company went out of business or was acquired by searching through the indexes to the appropriate volume.

Finally, the corporation records bureau in the state where the stock was issued may have information regarding the fate of a particular company. The address and phone number of the bureau in each state can be obtained from a librarian at the reference desk. Or you may try to find the contact information on the state's website. This address model--www.state.xx.us-- works for every state, just substitue the two digit postal abbreviation for xx. For Pennsylvania, the address is www.state.pa.us. Look for a link to corporate infomration. This function is usually part of the Secretary of State's office.

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Things change all the time and that's why we are here.

The Business Department encourages you to please stop by and ask a librarian any questions you have at any point in your research.

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