Company Research Basics
This guide (updated 6/27/2018) lists the most essential resources to use when performing company research. It is designed to get the business researcher started in the right direction. Please note that this guide is neither complete nor comprehensive as new information will be added as necessary. Read through the entire guide or use the links below to skip to a particular section. All links on this page will open in a new browser window. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by using the “Contact” link at the top of the website.
Availability of Information
There are several factors that will determine the availability of company information. These are discussed below.
Public or Private
Public Companies are companies that are traded on a stock exchange. Because public companies have stockholders, they have to provide information to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the public at large. Private companies do not have publicly-traded stock, so they do not have to provide information to the SEC or to the general public.
As a result, there will generally be a great deal more information for public companies than private companies. In general, there is a wealth of information available for public companies. Hints for finding information for both public and private companies will be discussed below.
Size of Company
The type and size of the company will determine how much information you will be able to find about a particular company. For example, it will be much easier to find information about a larger company such as Wal-mart, as opposed to a smaller company such as Bob’s Foodworld.
Location of a Company
The location of a company will also play a part in how much information is available. As a general rule, it will be easier to find information about an American company as opposed to companies in other countries. This is basically a result of the fact that most of our business resources come from U.S. content providers. However, due to the global nature of business, more international company information is becoming more available. Also note that it will be easier to find information for international companies that are traded on an American stock exchange (NYSE, AMEX, etc) than for companies that are not.
Newsworthiness of Company
Often the visibility of a company in the media will determine how much information is available. If a company has been in the news, either for positive or negative reasons, it is likely that many newspapers, journals, magazines, and trade publications may have articles about that company.
“Insider Information” refers to information that is pertinent to the internal workings of a company. Insider Information can include things such as corporate culture, employee satisfaction, benefits, workplace diversity, etc. It is often very difficult to find this type of information, because companies generally do not release this type of information. When companies do release this type of internal information, you should regard this information with caution. Any information that comes directly from a company may be very biased towards a positive image of the company.
Company Information Sources
Below are various places to look for company information. Please note that the list is not comprehensive and will be updated as needed.
Company Web Sites
Company web sites can be great places to start when looking for information. A company’s website may contain information about a company’s line of business, the products/services it sells, contact information, press releases, and annual reports (generally for public companies only).
When looking at a company’s website, one must be on the lookout for the inherent bias in the information on the site. Companies are not usually going to post negative information on their web sites, so most information will have a more “positive spin”. Business Researchers will want to make sure other sources confirm the information on the web site.
Company Annual Reports
An annual report is a document that a company makes available to its shareholders each year. The report normally includes a profit and loss account and balance sheet, as well as a directors’ report and an auditor’s report. Annual reports can be as plain as an ascii text document, or they can also be full color documents.
If a company is public, it has to submit an extensive version of the annual report, called a 10-K, to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Private companies do not have to submit an annual report to the SEC as their stocks (securities) are not sold to the public. Generally, annual reports are not available for private companies. The purpose of filing with SEC is “the disclosure of important financial information through the registration of securities. This information enables investors, not the government, to make informed judgments about whether to purchase a company’s securities. While the SEC requires that the information provided be accurate, it does not guarantee it. Investors who purchase securities and suffer losses have important recovery rights if they can prove that there was incomplete or inaccurate disclosure of important information.” (SEC website)
For information on how to find an annual report, look at the guide for Company Annual Reports.
The sources below offer company profiles and snapshots, which offer excellent overviews of a company in a quick-and-easily-to-read format.
Hoover’s is a great place to start if you know nothing about a particular company. It is an excellent source for comprehensive company profiles for public companies and includes some private company information.
OneSource is an excellent database for company profiles, industry and market research reports, SWOT analyses, analyst reports, and more.
Mergent Online contains global company information, annual reports, EDGAR filings, current news stories, and some industry reports. Mergent Online is a very powerful database. It is particularly useful in comparing company data for multiple companies with user-specified criteria. Use it to compare rations, number of employees, growth rate, total revenues, EBITDA, and whatever else you’d like, for as many companies as you like. All data can be sorted and exported to Excel. To learn how to compare company financials with Mergent Online, please take a look at the video that shows how to compare companies within a similar industry video. Additional videos on how to use Mergent Online may be found here.
PrivCo is a source for business and financial research on non-publicly traded corporations, including family-owned, private equity-owned, venture-backed and international unlisted companies. It has profiles for over 850,000 firms, 20,000 investors and 100,000 private market deals. Whether doing company, investor, M&A, venture capital funding, or private equity research, PrivCo is searchable by advanced criteria in all categories.
Business Source Complete
Business Source Complete contains company profiles for many U.S. and international companies. The reports, provided by Datamonitor/Marketline are generally very brief, but useful nonetheless. Many of the reports contain swot analyses, which can be useful in analyzing a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Plunkett Research Online
Plunkett Research Online offers annually updated industry overviews, one-page company profiles, associations, company contacts, and more. A good resource for general company and industry research. Use the “Search All Industries” link to search for a specific company by name. Plunkett also gives a nice list of competitors for major companies in their major industries.
Factiva is also another great place to look for company profiles. The information in Factiva company profiles is very similar to Hoover’s Online, although Factiva has more extensive coverage of international companies.
To access the company information section of Factiva:
- Click on the “Companies/Markets” link at the top of the database page.
- On the next page, click on the “Company” link at the top of the page.
- On “Get Company Snapshot” page, Search for your company by name or ticker.
- On the next page, Click on the “Reports” link on the left side of the page.
- Finally, select one of the two company profile reports available.
International Directory of Company Histories
The International Directory of Company Histories (reference book) is an excellent
resource for finding in-depth company histories. This multivolume, annually-updated set provides detailed information on the historical development of the world’s most important companies. Please note that this resource contains a great deal more historical information than most online resources.
Need to compare multiple companies with the criteria of your choosing? Then check out the resources below.
Mergent Online contains global company information, annual reports, EDGAR filings, current news stories, and some industry reports. Mergent Online is a very powerful database. It is particularly useful in comparing company data for multiple companies with user-specified criteria. Use it to compare rations, number of employees, growth rate, total revenues, EBITDA, and whatever else you’d like, for as many companies as you like. All data can be sorted and exported to Excel. To learn how to compare company financials with Mergent Online, please take a look at the Comparing Companies With Mergent Online video. Other videos on how to use Mergent may be found here.
Investment Publications (stock reports, analyst reports, equity reports) offer a glimpse of what professional brokerage firms think about a company. Make sure you consult reports from a variety of different resources to get the most balanced view of a company.
Mergent Equity Research Reports
Mergent Equity Research Reports contain individual analyst equity reports on over 4,000 large and mid-cap U.S. companies. Each company report is updated quarterly with weekly updated reports on over 100 companies.
Investext offers authoritative analyst reports for publicly-traded companies as well as industry analysis reports from multiple brokerage firms and financial institutions. Take a look at some videos on how to find the stock reports you need in Investext.
Value Line Investment Survey
Value Line Investment Survey (print resource) is an excellent resource to use when conducting an analysis of a company, or when looking for potential investment opportunities. Value Line reports on and analyzes approximately 1,700 stocks in over 95 industries. Each company’s report is updated quarterly.
Company News/Journal/Periodical Articles
All of the sources above are excellent for company information. However, for the most up-to-date company information, the business researcher should look for articles in newspapers, journals, magazines, and trade publications. Some suggested resources for articles are below.
Business Source Complete
Business Source Complete contains over 11,000 periodicals indexed and abstracted, with more than 10,000 full text, covering management, economics, finance, accounting and international business, among others. When researching companies or industries, use it to find articles in trade publications. Since trade publications are written by people in an industry, for people in an industry, the information found there can be more useful than articles from more general news sources.
Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal publishes business and finance new from around the globe. Electronic access to the Wall Street Journal back to 1984 is provided via the library’s subscription to Proquest Newspapers.