Reference Question of the Week: How do I evaluate companies and industries for investment purposes?

This week’s Reference Question of the Week takes a look at some of the ways we have to learn more about companies and industries.

Company Information

Public companies, that is companies that make stock available for purchase to the general public, or companies that are listed on stock exchanges, must file regular reports with the U. S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). These quarterly, annual, and other reports are a tremendous source of information about individual companies. Most of the following databases use the information provided to the SEC, but they have different ways of organizing the information and often combine the SEC information with other sources of information.

If I need to find information on a company my first stop is Mergent Online. (Remember that you should be logged into Esearch before using the library’s databases.)

“Mergent Online provides U.S. Company Data covering 10,000 public companies and their SEC filings, International Company Data, U.S. Annual Reports, current and historical, International Annual Reports and many tools to configure reports on company and industry analysis.”

The best way to see how much information Mergent Online provides is to go to their site, search for a company, and look through the results. You’ll find a substantial amount of information including a history, company details, financial information, ratios, long term debt, company news, equity pricing, and a report builder.

My second stop is often Standard & Poor’s NetAdvantage. Because S&P’s NetAdvantage also pulls much of its information from SEC filings you’ll see some of the same information found at Mergent. (The navigation is done from links on the left instead of tabs at the top, however.) S&P provides both quantitative and qualitative analysis of companies, including recommending stocks that are significantly undervalued. In addition to company profiles and corporation reports you can also find bond reports, fund reports, some industry profiles, as well as some information on some private companies. The best way to familiarize yourself with this database is to visit it and look around. On the front page are guides to help you find your way around.

If you want to go straight to the source you can check out the free database EDGAR at the SEC. (Click here for a tutorial on how to use EDGAR.)

There is a staggering amount of information available on numerous topics at official .gov sites. Some, like EDGAR, are a little difficult to navigate, whereas some new ones, like Investor.gov, have a more updated style and navigation tools.

LexisNexis is also a great resource for finding company information. I use LexisNexis as my first stop when I’m searching for information on non-profits.

While you’re searching don’t forget to search the company’s web site.

Industry Information

My first stop when looking for industry information is IBISWorld. When you get to this database scroll down to find the industry report that interests you. Reports are organized by their NAICS code.

For a more thorough look at how to find industry information check out the research guide we put together titled Industry Profiles.

Other sources worth checking out:
Subject Portals: Guides to databases, journals, books, tutorials, and links

Wolfram Alpha

Yahoo! Finance

Google Finance

Hoover’s Company and Industry Reports, Company Records (both basic and in-depth), and IPO Reports can be found in LexisNexis.

And some business news sites

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