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Company, Industry & Market Research

Getting Started

Overview

This guide is meant to help you find information on specific companies, industries, and economic markets. This guide is not designed to be comprehensive but should point you in the right direction. As this type of research will often not be "legal" in nature, you may find it useful to visit Harvard Business School's Baker Library. The librarians at HBS are very knowledgeable and helpful – links to some research resources they have created are included in this Guide. 

You may also want to visit the HLS Library's webpage on Business, Corporate, Finance & Market Data for descriptions of (and links to) additional databases you may find useful.

And FYI, a good (free) online dictionary of corporate and financial terms can be found at Investopedia.com/dictionary/.

For many of the databases mentioned in this guide, you will need your Harvard University ID and PIN.  For others, you may also need to register to gain access. Please note that the license agreements for some of HBS's more specialized databases limit their use to HBS-affiliates (e.g., HBS faculty, students, or staff), while other databases may be used by non-HBS-affiliates, but only through one of the computer terminals located in Baker Library (i.e., not remotely). If you have any trouble accessing a database, please contact the library. 

Company Research

Public vs. Private Companies

If a company is publicly-traded, it is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and subject to numerous reporting and disclosure requirements. These filings are designed to:

  • Provide investors (both current and potential) with relevant information to make informed investment decisions, and
  • Ensure the integrity of the markets by making sure that those who have "insider" knowledge about a company are not taking advantage of it for their own benefit.

By contrast, privately-held companies are not subject to the SEC's reporting and disclosure requirements. As a result, it is usually more difficult to find information about privately-held companies.

Regardless of whether a company is publicly-traded or privately-held, remember to visit the company's website.

  • The About and Contact pages are where you can find information about the company's mission and values, corporate leadership, physical locations, and contact information.
  • The Investor Relations pages (for publicly-held companies) are where you may find more detailed information regarding the company’s financial performance, archived quarterly investor calls, corporate governance documents, and corporate reports (quarterly and annual). Many of these documents are also filed with the SEC and may be accessed using EDGAR (see related sections below).

Public companies will usually have more information available than private companies but it never hurts to check.  

For additional information on researching both public and private companies -- especially information that may be available to the public for free -- please refer to the HLS Library Research Guide on Factual Research and Public Records, specifically, the section entitled "Business Records."

Resources for Publicly-Traded Companies

If a company is publicly-traded, it is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and subject to numerous reporting and disclosure requirements under the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. These include periodic filings (e.g., SEC Form 10-K) and as needed filings (e.g., SEC Form 8-K). These filings are designed to:

  • Provide investors (both current & potential) with relevant information to make informed investment decisions, and
  • Ensure the integrity of the markets by making sure that those who have "inside" knowledge about a company are not taking advantage of it for their own benefit.

Below are some FREE sources of information regarding publicly-traded companies. 

  • Yahoo! Finance - Easy access to financial news, data & commentary. Yahoo Finance is the largest business news website in the U.S., based on monthly traffic. For publicly traded companies, can easily access company profiles, stock price information, financial statistics, largest shareholders, analyst recommendations, and more.
  • Annual Reports.com - An easy-to-use directory of corporate annual reports.
  • PR Newswire - Use to find corporate (or organizational) press releases. NOTE: Company websites often provide access to their press releases as well.

Subscription research platforms offer more functionality. Bloomberg Law's Business Intelligence Center offers an assortment of tools:

  • Company Lookup - Look up information about a specific company, including financial information, management profiles, SEC filings, corporate structure/subsidiary information, corporate news, corporate actions, and more.
  • Company Report Writer - Generate Quick Reports or create a Custom Report that meets you specific needs.
  • Company Screener - Identify companies that meet certain financial criteria. Includes global public companies and over 100,000 privately-held companies.

Hoover's Company Profiles, containing general information about a company (e.g., description, basic history, officers and board members, competitors, products, operations, and more) are available on both  Westlaw (most recent edition) and Lexis Advance (most recent addition; referred to as "Hoover's Company Records - In-depth Records"), as well as ProQuest (from 2012 - 2016).

SEC Filings - Introduction

The SEC requires considerable periodic disclosure of a company's leadership, operations, and financial health. The financial sections of SEC filings generally include a statistical summary of operations, financial statements for each line of business, legal proceedings (if any), and a list of affiliated companies and subsidiaries. Other sections include information such as board membership (including member biographies and term principal stockholders, security holdings of management, and a list of directors with biographical and terms-of-office information.

The core SEC filings for a US publicly-traded company are:

  • Form 10-K (Annual Report - 1 per year, provides a comprehensive view of the company, similar to a prospectus but with detailed, audited financial statements), 
  • Form 10-Q (Quarterly Reports - 3 per year, provide quarterly updates to the annual report - less detailed and financial statements are not audited), 
  • Form DEF 14A or Proxy Statement (Annual Meeting Proxy -1 per year for matters requiring shareholder approval, such as board membership, executive compensation, corporate actions, etc.), and 
  • Form 8-K (Current Reports - filed as needed to notify investors of material development, such as bankruptcy filings, mergers & acquisitions, arrivals/departures of executives, etc.).  

NOTE: There can also be amendments made to each filing, so be sure to review any 10-K/A, 10-Q/A, etc.

Searching SEC Filings Using EDGAR

Companies (and other entities) required to register with the SEC are required to make disclosure filings with the SEC using its Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval – a/k/a "EDGAR" – system. These filings contain a wealth of information about the companies (or individuals) making the filings. For additional information on using EDGAR as a research tool, please see:

Subscription legal research platforms provide more robust searching capabilities, especially for searching across companies:

  • Lexis Securities Mosaic 
    • Can also access Securities Mosaic via Lexis Advance
    • Browse Lexis Advance by Practice Center => Securities
    • Then launch Securities Mosaic under "Real Time SEC EDGAR, SEDAR, and UK Filings"
  • Westlaw (see Practice Area => Corporate Governance => EDGAR Filings & Disclosures)
  • Bloomberg Law
    • Click on the "Browse" link (to the left of the search bar),
    • Then click on Practice Centers => Corporate
    • Then click on "Search EDGAR Filings" (under "Practice Tools/Company Data") and construct your search using the template provided

Resources for Privately-Held Companies

Most businesses in the US are privately-held (and often family-owned); however, some privately-held companies are also quite large. Although it is more difficult to find information about privately-held companies, it is not impossible. Here are some suggestions:

  • Secretary of State filings - These required filings can help identify the individuals who own the companies (see the "Secretary of State Filings" section, above).
  • Local newspapers, business publications, and trade journals - These publications often contain articles about privately-held companies that make news in a particular region or industry. 
    • Business Source Complete (EBSCO) - Business-related publications, including industry reports, market research reports, and trade journals.
    • Newspapers & News Collections (HLSL Find a Database)
    • Factiva - A news database that includes many trade publications, market research reports, company profiles, and more. Click on the "Company/Markets" tab and select "Company" to then search for a company. Use "Categories" at top (or options in the right margin) to filter News stories.
  • Specialty databases - Some databases will provide as much information as they can find about companies, even if they are privately-held. 
    • Orbis - A global company database that includes information on privately-held companies.

Non-Profit Organizations

Non-profit organizations often seek donations from the public. As a result, the initial filings to request tax-exempt status (IRS Form 1023) and ongoing reporting (IRS Forms 990) required by the IRS are designed to not only ensure that the organization is operating in a manner consistent with its tax-exempt status but to also provide potential donors with the information they need to make informed charitable donation decisions. In this regard, potential donors are akin to potential investors.

Industry & Market Research

Introduction

An industry is group of companies that make and/or sell similar products or services. Sometimes you may need to know who the key companies are in an industry, who your potential competitors are, whether the industry is growing or contracting, and if the industry is experiencing any particular trends.

A market is a group of potential customers and is often defined in demographic and/or geographic terms. You may need to know the size of a potential market, if there are any general trends, and/or what the customers' preferences are.

Databases

Below are some subscription databases for industry and market research:

Data

Data (subscription databases)

Below are some selected resources. For a more comprehensive list of Business, Corporate, Finance & Market Data, please see the HLS Library's Business, Corporate, Finance & Market Data webpage.

Public/Free Resources for Data and Other Information

Below are some public (often free) sources of data and other information you may find useful:

Also, be sure to check out the HLS Library's webpage for Data Repositories & Portals.

Current Awareness

News

Below are some good resources for company, industry, and/or market related news:

Academic Articles & Research

Search these databases to find academic journals, research and analysis of companies, trade publications, industry specific newsletters, and other business or economic publications.  

Just for Fun

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