Publicly-Held vs. Privately Held CompaniesA publicly-held company has outside shareholders who have a financial interest in the company. Not every company with shareholders is required to disclose their financial information though. A company must file with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) if its securities are traded in interstate commerce, the company has more than one million dollars in assets, and/or there is a class of equity security held by 500 or more shareholders.
Privately held companies are just that private. Financial information about those companies is often kept private as well. Occasionally these companies disclose some financial information, but they are not required to do so. Therefore, accessing information on privately-held companies is sometimes difficult, but not impossible.
Securities and Exchange Commission DocumentsAs mentioned earlier, most publicly-held companies are required to file documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The document familiar to most people is the annual report which must also be sent to each shareholder as well. The annual report contains financial information about a company as well as other points of interest. Companies must report on their corporate officers, lines of business, and new acquisitions. The annual report is usually a very glossy document resembling a magazine or booklet. Information is presented in such a way that it is appealing to shareholders. Annual reports can be obtained by calling the Investor Relations Department of the company in which you are interested.
A more "no-frills" document is the 10-K. It contains the same information that is required in the annual report. This year end report must be filed three months after the end of the corporation's fiscal year. If you are researching a company in February of 1999, the most recent 10-K or annual report you most likely will be able to obtain may be the 1997 report.
That is when the 10-Q report comes in handy. The 10-Q report is a quarterly report that also must be filed with the SEC. Although there is some time lag between the end of a quarter and the date at which a report must be filed, it will help you bridge the gap some. There are many other documents that must be filed with the SEC as well. We won't go into those however. The annual report, 10-K and 10-Q should provide you with the information you need.