The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by federal law requires all publicly traded companies to file quarterly and annual reports, and present a full disclosure of finances to its shareholders. Shareholders receive this report at the end of the company's fiscal year in conjunction with annual shareholder meetings. These documents include summaries of the financial information presented visually with illustrations, charts and graphs.
Investors obtain current annual reports easily online at company websites, ordering through a third party such as AnnualReports.com or using a financial website to obtain official SEC filings. However, older annual reports, especially those prior to 1995, can prove difficult to access—especially the print brochures. The process to locate older reports takes time and perseverance, and obtaining them can require some costs.
Find the company’s official website and the links to investor relations. The investor relations portion of the website provides in-depth information about the company’s finances, corporate management and investment options. Many large companies, such as IBM, maintain a digital archive of older annual reports as PDF files. Alternately, use a third-party resource, such as Public Register’s Annual Report Service or AnnualReports.com, to verify if it offers old annual reports. Third-party resources require users to register for free accounts.
Access the SEC’s online filing database if the company does not archive the old reports. The SEC provides links to 10-K filings and other official financial reports through the Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR) database. It contains filings from 1994 to the present. Search the EDGAR database by either the stock ticker symbol or the company name.
Alternatively, select one of the financial search engines and use the ticker symbol to search for company records. The retrieved record links to the SEC EDGAR Online information system.
Check the local public library or academic library to determine whether one of these agencies offers access to subscription databases for financial information. The financial databases include collections of historical annual report documents searchable by ticker symbol or company name. Databases collect and index the 10-K filings, as opposed to the published annual reports.
Visit a large university with a business school. Some academic business libraries retain old annual reports in print or on microform. For example, The Johnson School‘s Management Library at Cornell University makes annual reports and other SEC filing documents available on microfiche from 1971 to 1995, or view pre-1971 annual reports on microcards. The Library of Congress Business Reading Room in Washington, D.C., holds annual reports from the late 19th and early 20th centuries on microfiche for in-library use.
Try compiling financial information from corporate histories, old newspaper articles and books about obsolete and extinct securities if print or electronic reports do not exist. Check the local libraries for directories and financial and newspaper databases.
Find the company’s stock ticker symbol before starting to search for information. Many financial resources use the ticker symbol for more accurate results.
Foreign companies traded on the U.S. stock exchanges hold a special status, trading as American Depositary Receipts (ADR). Locate annual reports for these companies through their websites or the EDGAR database.
Only publicly traded securities file annual reports with the federal government. SEC laws exempt privately held corporations from disclosing their financial status.
- business report image by Darko Draskovic from Fotolia.com