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.
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?
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
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
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
next to the company name. Companies that have a
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.)
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.
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
, a database from the Securities and
. 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
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:
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.
CNN The Financial Network
These services provide current news stories on deals, companies, and
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
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.
(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
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
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.
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)
Mergent Dividend Record (room reference- updated weekly)
Standard and Poor’s Dividend Record (room
These are two services that list dividend payments for U.S. companies
(arranged alphabetically by company). Keep in mind that not all companies
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.
What is the history of this company? What are they doing now?
The International Directory of Company Histories
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
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.
What do analysts think of this stock?
Two of the best known stock analysis services are Standard & Poor’s
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
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:
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
For other books on this subject check
our online catalog and search under these subjects:
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.
Almanac of Business and Industrial Financial Ratios by Leo
Troy, is often called "Troy;" it covers certain industries the other two do
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.
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
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.
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