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Company Research Steps

This page suggests steps to follow in gathering information needed for company analysis. Each step includes an explanation, types of sources that may include relevant information, and specific tools to try. Some steps will not be appropriate or necessary for particular assignments. Also, some assignments are likely to require steps other than those listed below.

Step 1 Determine the company's exact name and status

A company research project can get off to a bad start due to confusion regarding the company's exact name and status. Different companies can have similar-sounding names. Company names can change over time. A product brand name is usually not the same as the company name. Make sure you are researching the company you intend to be researching! As to company status, some firms sell securities to the public and are said to be publicly-held. Other firms are said to be privately held, and it will be more difficult to find information, especially financial, on them. It also can be hard to find detailed information on subsidiaries and divisions of public or private companies and on small or new companies.

This type of information is available from sources such as company directories and the "about us" section of corporate web sites. Also try these:

Step 2 Obtain an overview of the company: what it does, history, etc.

Company overviews, or profiles, include information such as: the firm's lines of business, industries in which it competes ("NAICS" and "SIC" codes), key numbers such as annual sales and number of employees, history, ticker symbol if traded on an exchange, names of executives, and URL.

This type of information is available from sources such as company information databases and corporate web sites. Try these:

Step 3 Find news articles about the company

News about a given company may be published in sources such as business newspapers and magazines, general interest newspapers and magazines, blogs, and the company's own corporate web site. Small companies are more likely to be written about in newspapers from the areas in which they do business. Several library databases provide a way to track the news on a company at some specific point in time (for example, what was going on with a particular company around August 14, 2001). Company publications such as press releases are important, but the issue of their objectivity should be kept in mind.

This type of information can be found using search tools such as:

Step 4 Find articles about the company from trade journals and academic (scholarly) journals

Trade journals are magazines that focus on particular industries such as automobiles, beverages, and advertising. They publish articles about companies written by journalists and others knowledgeable about the industry. Such articles use terminology of the industry and are usually short.

Academic journals (or scholarly or peer-reviewed journals) cover all major subject fields. Academic journal articles, unlike trade journal articles, have usually been evaluated by two or three experts in the field, in addition to an editor, before publication. They are written by professors or other researchers in the given field, describe the methodology used for a study, reports results, and list references. Academic journal articles may have been written about various aspects of a given company. The search strategy for finding trade journal or academic journal articles involves entering the company name and the issue being studied, such as: deere AND advertising, deere AND organizational structure; and deere AND sarbanes oxley.

Trade journal and academic journal articles can be found using search tools such as:

Step 5 Study the company's financial statements, ratios, and stock performance

Publicly-held companies are required to file financial statements and other documents, such as the Form 10-K annual report, with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). (SEC reports are available directly from the SEC and through various free and fee-based services such as LexisNexis.) These include the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. Figures from these statements can be used to calculate financial and operating ratios, such as net income over sales. These are used to evaluate a company's performance and compare it with other companies such as those in the same industry. A publicly-held company's stock price represents the investment community's view of the outlook for the company.

This type of information can be found in various places using search tools such as the following:

Step 6 Review investment research reports

Investment research reports track company financials and other developments, monitor industry trends, and make purchase recommendations.

Investment research reports can be found using search tools such as:

Step 7 Determine and evaluate the company's strategies

Companies aim to develop strategies to meet their goals and compete successfully in the long run. Company executives may state, discuss, and answer questions about their strategies in SEC filings, annual reports to shareholders, investor conference calls and webcasts, speeches, articles, and documents on corporate web sites. Some authors use strategic analysis tools like SWOT and Five Forces when studying company strategies and industries. The results of these studies are published in sources such as journal articles, books, and company reference sources.

This type of information can be found using tools such as:

  • U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission EDGAR Database (See Part I, Item 1 - Business of 10-K Annual Reports for company's discussion of strategic issues)
  • Investor Relations Presentations/Webcasts (usually listed in Investor Relations or "About Us" section of corporate web site)
  • Annual report to shareholders (usually listed in Investor Relations or "About Us" section of corporate web site; also in Mergent Online)
  • Business Source Elite (Company Profiles include SWOT analyses, written by Global Data) for larger companies
  • UNISTAR (library catalog search may lead to books on specific companies that address their history)
  • See Step 4. for additional databases for searching for academic journal and trade journal articles
Step 8 Identify competitors and study industries in which company operates

Company analysis includes evaluation of competitors and the industry in which the company competes. One way to determine the industries in which a company does business is to look up its entry in directories like those listed in Step 1. Business & Company Resource Center, for example, lists lines of business and NAICS and SIC industry codes in company entries. Company reference sources and product catalogs can help identify competitors. Industry reports usually mention leading companies in different sectors of the industry.

This type of information may be found using tools such as:

Step 9 Examine the company's web site(s)

Corporate web sites provide a wealth of information, of course presented from the company's point of view. In addition to providing a picture of the company's marketing strategy, they also include other types of information about the company, like links to SEC filings, annual reports to shareholders, and speeches by executives. Information like this may be listed under a heading such as "About Us" or "About the Company" or "About Company X." A company's division or subsidiary web sites may have information not on the parent corporation web site.

Company web sites can be found using tools and techniques such as:

  • Company directories such as those listed in Step. 1 usually give the URL for the corporate web site and other contact details like phone and address.
  • Another approach is to guess the corporate URL: Guessing may lead to web sites that are fakes or the pages for companies with similar sounding names, however.
  • General web search tools like Google
Step 10 Learn how to evaluate companies in particular industries

Standard & Poor's NetAdvantage includes a source called Industry Surveys. It covers about 50 major industries. The surveys are written by Standard & Poor's industry analysts and financial writers. The analysts list and explain key ratios and statistics in the study of a given industry, and they also explain how to analyze a company in that industry.

Industry Surveys can be accessed in this tool:

This page is based in part on the University of Florida Business Library Company Tutorial.

Last updated: October 15, 2013

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