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Non-Legal Research: News & Corporate and Personal Information : Companies

A guide to help with non-legal research that covers news as well as information on companies and individuals

Kinds of Company Resources

The most common resources for company information include:

  • Company websites and profiles
  • Annual Reports
  • Investment data
  • Analyst Reports
  • Industry Analysis
  • Company Directories
  • News and Journal Articles

Company Publications

Website: A company's website can be a great place to start your research.  Look for sections like "About Us" or "Investor Relations."  

Annual Report: Many public companies will also post their most recent annual report on their website.  The important thing to remember about annual reports and any information obtained for a company's own website is that it is biased.  Companies use annual reports to present the state of their business in the most positive light. The financial statements in the annual reports must comply with general accounting rules and will be attested to by an independent auditor.  You will also want to check the "Management Discussion" section of the annual report where the company will discuss how the numbers were arrived at and any key business decisions that affected the financials. 

Public Records

Companies, both public and private, must register with the Secretary of State's office in the state in which they are incorporated. 

What kind of public records exist?

  • Certificate of Good Standing
  • UCC filings
  • Tax Liens & Judgments

The Secretary of State offices of many states (including IL) allow you to search basic business records online for free.  Some states such as Delaware charge for such searches.

Illinois Secretary of State Corporate/LLC Search

Public vs Private

One of the first questions you will want to answer is whether the company is publicly held or privately held.  A publicly held company is one that sells its stock to the public on a stock exchange and therefore is required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to disclose certain types of information. 

The best places to look for information on public companies include SEC filings, analyst reports, news articles, and profiles available through commercial databases and the company website.

A privately held company, also known as a closely held company, does not have the same disclosure requirements since it stock is not for sale to the public and therefore can be more difficult to research.  It is a mistake to assume that all privately held companies are small and insignificant though as this Forbes list of the largest private companies indicates.

Company Profiles

There are a number of commercial services that will compile company profiles that contain information like a summary of the business, organizational structure, executive info, industry codes, key competitors and basic financial data. 

Hoover's Basic Company Records (available via Lexis)

Standard & Poor's Corporate Descriptions (available via Lexis)

Business Source Premier (available via EBSCOhost) - articles and reports from trade publications, newspapers, magazines, plus Datamonitor company profiles

Hoover's Full Company Records (available via Chicago Public Library) - detailed profiles for 40,000+ public and private companies

ReferenceUSA (available via Chicago Public Library) - listings for over 14 million U. S. companies

SEC Filings

EDGAR, the Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system, performs automated collection, validation, indexing, acceptance, and forwarding of submissions by companies and others who are required by law to file forms with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. EDGAR is most easily searched through Bloomberg Law.

The 10-K is the comprehensive report of the company's performance that must be filed with the SEC every year and will contain much more detailed information than the annual report companies provide their shareholders.  The 10-K is full of useful strategic information, especially in the following sections:

  • Item 1: Business
  • Item 3: Legal Proceedings
  • Item 7: Management Discussion & Analysis (MD&A)
  • Item 8: Financial Statements

In addition to the 10-K, companies are required to update their financial position after each quarter. The 10-Q report is filed for each of the first three fiscal quarters of the company's fiscal year. The 10-Q includes unaudited financial statements and an updated MD&A.

Industry Profiles

Understanding the business climate in which the company operates can provide important information about their strategy and prospects for the future.   Industry reports can tell you about the company's competitors and the overall challenges and opportunities for organizations in that business.

Business Source Complete (available via EBSCOhost) features industry reports from Datamonitor and other sources

Standard & Poor's Industry Surveys via NetAdvantage (available in person at Chicago Public Library - Harold Washington Library, Sulzer Regional Library, and Woodson Regional Library)  Very detailed industry reports include the following sections: Current Environment, Industry Trends, How the Industry Operates, Key Industry Ratios and Statistics, and How to Analyze a Company