Helpful Sources for Company Research
After listening to a classmate’s presentation on Yahoo Finance, I was inspired to try out a few other business research websites for my blog post this week. I have done very little business research in the past, but when I have, I’ve used Westlaw, Lexis, or CCH, all paid sites. I decided to look into a few free sites to see what they had to offer.
First, I tried Hoovers, which is a business directory/database that connects researchers with more than 65 million companies (http://www.hoovers.com). At first glance, it looked really promising: the website appears to be easy to use and looks like it houses a lot of company information. Unfortunately, although it is very user friendly, a lot of the information is available only with a subscription. Some company information is blocked behind the paid subscription wall, while other companies (I think the smaller, less frequently searched ones) are available. For example, I entered “Apple” into the search box at the top of the page, and was brought to a page with very limited company information, and several offers to try a subscription. I then tried clicking on “Browse directories: Companies” (note: there is also a way to browse companies by industry) and was brought to an alphabetical list of all of the companies for which Hoovers has a profile. Also on this page was a way to sort the companies, either by industry or business classification. Further, it provided industry overviews. I randomly selected 1800Mattress.com from the company list, and was provided with an overview of the company, including its location and stock information, a list of executives, and the competitive landscape. Although you would need to subscribe to access the full competition report, even without the subscription, you are provided with a list of competitors and the industries in which the company competes. This type of information is incredibly helpful in the event that you are working on an antitrust assignment, where it can be really difficult to figure out what exactly a company does, and who it competes with. In all, I think this might be a useful site to use as a supplementary source, when you know exactly which company you are looking for and you need only quick, basic information about that company.
Next, I tried Manta, which claims to be the world’s largest online community for connecting small businesses, with more than 64 million company profiles from the U.S. and beyond (http://www.manta.com/). It is rated the third largest business news/research website. Like Hoovers, this is a site that offers its best information to members of the site, but also like Hoovers, there are some great features available for free. At the top of the page, there is a way to browse through companies. You can either browse by state or industry, or you can access the entire list and refine your search from there. Using filters on the left-hand side of the page, you can limit your results to companies created as of a certain date, companies with a certain number of employees, or those with a certain level of revenues. To try out the site, I chose to browse through the entire list. Then, I narrowed down my search by industry to “food” companies. Within my new list, I perused the subheadings, and chose “chewing gum.” This brought me to forty-one different chewing gum companies. When you select a company, you are given some basic information, and asked to register for free in order to view more information. Although this site has a lot of potential, and can again help you out if you are looking for some quick answers, it is definitely inferior to yahoo finance in terms of usability and content. And, I needed to keep reminding myself that it was a collection of small businesses, so this is not the place to find information on a company like Apple.
I then tried CNET Ticker Look-up, a great site for getting quick stock information (http://www.learnwebskills.com/company/ticker02.html). The website comes with directions, making it extremely easy to use. All you have to do is enter a company name into the search field, and you are provided with a host of stock information, including price and volume, a company overview, financial strength and profitability and the ticker symbol. The search also brings up a number of news stories related to the specific company. And, even if you are not researching a particular company, you can use the website to get general stock market information. The site provides US indices, Global indices, a currency calcuator, and information by sector. One downside of the site however is that you need to put up with a lot of advertisements, so many that I would recommend turning off the sound on your computer.
Finally, not to be forgotten are the company websites themselves, which can be some of the best sources of free information. Often, a company will have links to their most recent SEC filings, including 10Ks, 10Qs, and 8Ks. With our last research assignment in mind, I used Borders as an example. At first, it seemed that the website would only be helpful for finding a book or a store location, but on closer inspection, I found an “investor relations” link on the bottom of the homepage (http://www.borders.com/online/store/PartnerSiteInvestorsView). This brought me to a page with a company profile, the NYSE ticker symbol, and the price of the stock. It also showed that the data was current as of March 3, 2011 at 12:08pm (only 20 minutes old at that point), so I knew the information was very current. In addition to links to recent news stories involving Borders, the site also contained links to information regarding corporate governance, analyst info, press releases, annual reports and SEC filings. When I clicked on SEC Filings, I was brought to a table with links to all of their recent SEC filings. In fact, the table included filings from as far back as June of 1996 (not bad!). Also helpful was a way to search for keywords in the SEC filings, and to limit the search results to specific forms. There were links to search tips and descriptions of the different forms themselves on the site as well. Finally, the link to annual reports brings you to a list has a pdf version of the actual, glossy annual report, from 2000 to 2009. Although the SEC website and other free resources can definitely produce the same info, it’s good to remember that when researching a company, sometimes it’s easiest, and maybe even fastest, to go directly to the source itself: the company.