At first, public filings may look like alphabet soup, but when researching a company, they are some of the most important documents you will read.
If a company has a stock on a major exchange like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), it is required to file certain documents for public consumption with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC imposes guidelines on what information gets published in these filings, so they are somewhat uniform. Finally, companies are required to file documents in a timely fashion.
Among the public filings available, the most comprehensive and useful document is the 10-K. The 10-K is an annual report that outlines a wealth of general information about a company, including number of employees, business risks, description of properties, and strategies. The 10-K also contains the company's audited year-end financial statements. In addition to possessing crucial facts and figures, the 10-K also includes management's discussion and analysis of the past business year and compares it with preceding years.
We suggest making the 10-K the first stop in your journey to researching a company. How do you find a firm's 10-K? Just visit the SEC Web site, click on "Filings & Forms," and then "Search for Company Filings." After plugging your company's name into the "Companies & Other Filers" search, you can pick the 10-K out of the list of forms. Morningstar.com also has links directly to the SEC Web site. Just enter a company's name or ticker into the search box, and choose the "Filings" tab on the quote page navigation.
What about all those other forms? Some of them are worth a read. For instance, the 10-Q contains some of the same data that you'll find in the 10-K, except that it is published on a quarterly basis. Although it's a little less comprehensive and the financial statements are typically unaudited, the 10-Q is a good way to keep tabs on a company throughout the year.
Another important document is the annual proxy statement, also called DEF 14a. In the proxy, you will find detailed information about executive compensation, the board of directors, and the shareholder voting process. The proxy is a must read for gaining better insight into the corporate governance of the company you're researching and determining your rights as a potential shareholder.
If you're interested in a recent event, typically associated with an earnings release or major company announcement, you can find the details in the most recent 8-K. Also, you may want to occasionally peruse the Form 4's to see if insiders have been trading company stock. Every time company insiders make a transaction in company stock, they are required to file the Form 4, allowing you a peek into whether they are buying or selling shares. While an insider's trading activity may be no smarter than your own, it can at least reveal if management's investment behavior is consistent with its tone.
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