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Researching a Company: Doing Company Research

Company Web Sites

What about using the company's own website as a source of information? 

There is no question that it can be a useful source to find out

  • what is happening at a company 
  • to learn about products 
  • Learn about company divisions  
  • other basic information. 

It is important to keep in mind that the company site is primarily a public relations document, designed to encourage investors to buy stock.  Therefore, you need to carefully evaluate the information found on the web site, and keep in mind that the company isn't likely to offer any information that isn't positive and has internal biases.  Since you have access to so much information about the company, it just makes sense to use more than the company web site.

Doing Company Research

One of the most common types of research required of business students is company research.  It could be for a SWOT analysis project, a management or marketing assignment, or you may be researching a company for a job interview.  Whatever your need, the library has the right research tools to help you succeed.

Before you begin your company research here are a few things to consider about your company:

Public VS Private

First identify the nature of the company.  It could be:

  • Public - Traded on a major stock exchange.
  • Private - Not traded on a major stock exchange, family owned.
  • International - a non-US corporation
  • Subsidiary - at least 51% of shares are owned by another company.

From the research perspective, the public company offers the best opportunity to gather information.  Public companies must "disclose" meaning they must make available financial data and other information.  That means there are fewer barriers to gathering information.   Consider that a private company does not divulge its financial statements.  Without financials, a SWOT analysis could be quite difficult.



SIC and NAICS - Matching a Company to an Industry

An SIC is a Standard Industrial Classification code and an NAICS is a North American Industry Classification System.  The United States Department of Commerce uses these codes to classify every company into industries and products.  The SIC codes are no longer officially in use as the NAICS codes were created to both improve on and replace the SICs and to meet the requirements of NAFTA.  However, in most business research databases you will likely see both SIC and NAICS in use.  There are several library databses that can help you determine the SIC or NAICS for a particular company - to help better identify its industry, and these numbers can be used in databases to gather additional industry information.  Keep in mind that many companies, particularly large conglomerates operate in multiple industries and therefore list many codes.


Financials and SEC Documents

Almost any type of serious company analysis, and especially a SWOT analysis will require obtaining company financials.  Keep in mind that for U.S. companies, only a publicly held parent company will make its financial statements available.  If you are researching a private firm or a subsidiary of a public company, you will not find financials for this company.  It has become more common for public companies to provide their financials through the company web site.  Many simply provide links to their SEC documents.  You can find financials in several library databases, including Business Source Complete, and Lexis/Nexis Academic Universe.  


If you want to obtain the actual SEC documents, a recommended site is EDGAR.  It makes the search and location of the documents easy, there are readily available segments of the documents available for download and the site is east to navigate.  The most import documents are the 10-K which is a detailed annual report and the 10-Q, the quarterly report that updates the annual report.


 If you are in need of financial ratios, they can be found online in the Disclosure Reports (see Lexis/Nexis below).  

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