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Company Information - Doing The Research

One of the most common types of research required of SBA 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, Gutman 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
    * international - a non-U.S. 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 mean there are fewer barriers to gathering information for the SWOT analysis. Consider that a private company does not divulge its financial statements. Without financials, a SWOT analysis could be quite difficult.

To determine a company's status, do a search on the company name in our Hoover's Online (NOTE: Gutman Library subscribes to the premium version - this is better than the  "" which is the free version). Look at this screenshot that shows how to identify a public company in Hoovers.

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 Dept. of Commerce uses these codes to classify every company into by 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 SICs and NAICS in use. There are several library databases 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. Look at this example of finding the codes from Hoovers.

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 Hoovers, Business & Company Resource Center, ValueLine Research Center, and Lexis/Nexis Academic Universe (in the Disclosure Report). If you want to obtain the actual SEC documents a recommended web site is EDGARSCAN. 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 easy to navigate. The most important documents are the 10-K - which is an 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), but the library also subscribes to the print versions of several common ratio books, including the RMA Annual Statement Studies (338.0973 R642a in the 1st Floor Reference Area) and the Dun & Bradstreet's Key Business Norms and Ratios (338.50973 D897iL in the 1st Floor Reference Area).

Company Web Sites

What about using the company's own web site as a source of information. There's no question that it can be a useful source to find out what is happening at the company, to learn about products, divisions, and 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 information found on the web site, and keep in mind that the company isn't likely to offer any information that isn't positive. In other words, the company's own site has internal biases. Since you have access to so much other information about the company, it just makes sense to use more than the company web site.

Gutman Library's Company and Industry Information Resources.

The library already offers a web page that provides information about and links to all of the relevant databases that have something to do with electronically researching business information. Provided here is a brief summary of those databases that are most appropriate for company and industry research - and any specialized resources they contain.

Hoover's Online - Essentially a business directory with a variety of basic company information content. This includes, news stories, financials, corporate officers, competitor lists, information about competitors. Of particular value is the competitive landscape report. It compares your company to three top competitors, the overall industry and the market in one chart. Hoovers provides information on all types of companies, public, private, international, and subsidiary.

ValueLine Research Center - Designed for the investor, VRC contains detailed financial data on publicly held companies. It covers approximately 3,500 companies, so it may not have some data for some public companies. On the home page, the navigation shows the "look up company" and "look up industry" options. Those are the two areas used for this research. It is best to examine both the PDF and HTML versions of the VRC reports for a company or industry. They are not the same report. Be sure to examine the "commentary" sections of the report. There is one for the company and industry - they are found in the HTML version. The PDF version contains a one-page detailed financial analysis of the company.

Business & Company Resource Center - This is a "one stop" center for a variety of business information about all types of companies, industries, and products. It is easy to navigate, but offers an advanced search feature for customized searching. The easiest way to begin is to search by company name, identify the correct record for the company, and then proceed to gather information by selecting the tabs at the top of the page. The types of data (click links below to see examples) available are:

  • Profile - an overview of the company
  • News & Articles - from the hundreds of trade and industry publications as well as newspapers and other sources
  • History - obtain a detailed history of the company that profiles major strategic initiatives.
  • Financials - another place where you can find them (for public companies only)
  • Investment Report - an analytical report on a company or industry compiled by an employee of a brokerage firm. It is designed to help investors make buy/sell choices about public company stock. These reports provide useful information about the financial health of companies.
  • Rankings - find out if your company is on a ranking list, such as the Fortune 500.
  • Products - what does your company sell - what are the names of the products
  • Industry - get information about the industry in which your company operates.

Business Source Premier - A database provided as part of the EBSCOHost system, BSP provides access to the full text of thousands of business publications, including the Harvard Business Review and some other top journals in the sub-disciplines of business.

Here are some quick tips. First, when you search by a company name it is always a good idea to change the search index from "default" to "CO Company Entity". That helps to assure the articles are primarily about the company. While BSP can be scrolled for articles, it is more efficient to explore by result category. In the illustration below links to some of the categories helpful to company and industry research are highlighted with red arrows. These categories are typically available for public companies. They may not be available for private firms, especially those that are small and without national business interest (e.g., an architecture firm based in a Philadelphia suburb).

Click here for screenshot >

Below is a partial screenshot from a SWOT Analysis report for Wal-Mart. Please note that the full text of the report is available but it is in PDF format. Just click on the link to get to the full text report.

ABI/Inform - A database provided as part of the ProQuest system, this is a premier business information database. With articles from over 1,000 business publications (newspaper, magazine, scholarly journals) - many in full-text format - this is a way to find more research and insight into a company or industry. There are three databases the make up ABI:

  • ABI Global - the largest of the three it is also the broadest in terms of publications covered
  • Trade & Industry - adds 750 full-text journals that are designed for industry specialists and practitioners;
  • Business Dateline - adds 150+ regional business newspapers (e.g., Philadelphia Business Journal); a great source for research regional firms that don't receive much national business press coverage.

Note - to select any or all of the ABI databases, once connected to the ProQuest system (ProQuest is the name of the company that supplies ABI), click on the "select multiple databases" link and then choose from the menu.

Note - ABI/Inform is also Gutman Library's source for the full text of the Wall Street Journal. Anyone doing research on a public company cannot overlook articles from the Wall Street Journal. The good news is that it is integrated into ABI/Inform. As long as your search includes "newspapers" as a source (which is does by default) you will be searching the Wall Street Journal. If you want to limit your search to only articles from the Wall Street Journal or any other business publication, you can do that in ABI/Inform by searching by "publication" - click on that search tab - or use the "advanced search" to limit your search by a publication title (note - you must drop the index box to change the index to "publication title".

Special Tip for ABI: Consider a large company such as Sears. A basic search on the word "sears" can retrieve many thousands of articles - and many of them will not be strictly about Sears. For example, you could retrieve an article about Wal-Mart that mentions the work Sears anywhere, such as "Sears is far behind Wal-Mart is sales volume." The problem is that the article mentions the word Sears, but it is really all about Wal-Mart. Wading through these articles wastes lots of time. Instead, use the special "company name search" that ABI offers to enhance the search.

Start with a basic search on Sears:

Click here for screenshot >

This retrieves an enormous amount of articles which will take many hours to wade through. The goal in searching electronic databases is to reduce the search to the least number of articles where most of the articles are very specific to the company. Here is the result of the search:

Click here for screenshot >

The red arrow shows the search results - 38,891 (keep in mind this does go back to the 1970s).

The black arrow points to the "company name" search that is recommended by the database. The blue arrow indicates that you can also limit the search to a specific format of publication. Using the "Sears (company/org)" option will greatly reduce the articles retrieved and increase the quality of the articles retrieved.

All of the ABI databases allow for advanced searching to locate information that is specific to "sears" and "marketing". Search terms, using the advanced search, can also be limited to specific fields, such as article title or journal title. All ProQuest databases allow students to format their article citations according to standard formats such as APA, MLA, and Chicago.

Lexis/Nexis Academic Universe - Most students know Academic Universe (AU) as a good source for full-text articles from thousands of newspapers, magazines, press releases, and more. You can certainly use AU to get all sorts of stories about many companies. The MOST IMPORTANT piece of ADVICE is DO NOT use the QUICK NEWS SEARCH - unless you are just starting and want just a few quick articles. The quick search finds only 125 articles - no more - and you have no control over what the articles are about or where they are coming from. For a SWOT analysis you'll need to go into more depth. So, what else can you use in AU?

CAUTION: The most difficult challenge in using AU to find information on any large, public company is that there is far too much information. If you typically just search the name, you'll likely get a response that indicates your search will retrieve more than 1,000 articles - and the search won't work. You'll need to think of ways to combine your company name search with other terms or use some of the strategies mentioned below. If you are encountering difficulty in narrowing your search or finding good articles in AU, then speak to Steven Bell or another member of the library staff at Gutman Library for advice on how to use features such as "atleast" and "word count" limiting to improve search results.

  • Business News - this will allow you to not only make your search more specific to business publications in AC. Also, the search indexes on the Business News search have a company name index option - which General News does not have. It is always advantageous, with a large public company to change the search index to "company".
  • News Transcripts - if you drop the News Category "source" box on the main page of the Business search, you'll see that News Transcripts is an option. Select that to search the transcripts of many broadcast news shows. Why? Many of these are business news programs that interview the CEOs of major corporations. Those transcripts provide great insight into the company and industry.
  • Disclosure Reports - A Disclosure report is a unique resource found in AU. It combines information that comes from multiple SEC (Security & Exchange Commission) documents into one comprehensive report. It is primarily financial in nature. It features basics such as the company financial statements, but also includes harder to find things, such as 26 pre-calculated financial ratios. Most of the data is available for the past three years. To get to Disclosure, first change your search area to Company Financials (see arrow in screenshot below):

As you can see, there is a good deal more to Lexis/Nexis AU than the Quick News Search. There is actually more than that mentioned here. It can be a good use of time to familiarize yourself with the different areas of Lexis/Nexis AU's business research category. If you need additional assistance with L/N AU  for business research, please contact Steven Bell.



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