Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Company annual reports and business information
Company annual reports and business information
Scarlett PalmerThe Department of Land Management and Development, The University of Reading, RG6 6AW. EMail: email@example.com
Keywords: Company reports, Information
It has long been possible to obtain many company reports free of charge but this has involved writing to the company concerned and requesting the information. The downside is that you often have to wait some time to obtain the relevant report and in all likelihood your name will appear on the company mailing list for evermore and you will receive endless information about the company long after your interest has disappeared.
Often all you require from an annual report is a quick look at, for instance, the turnover figures, and a hard copy report can give you hundreds of glossy pages that are of no interest at all. However, these problems are becoming a thing of the past as there are now a number of Internet sites offering free online access to company reports. These reports can generally either be read on line or be viewed in PDF format using an acrobat reader (see below if you do not already have a reader). Some of the sites also offer the user the option to order the hard copy of the report if they so wish.
The Public Register's Annual Report Service is a free service offering users the option to view a company's online annual report (in PDF format) or to request a free hard copy. This service is available at www.annualreportservice.com and the site includes a link to the adobe acrobat site from where you can download the free acrobat reader if you do not already have one. The service currently (December 1999) has 2,210 company reports and claims that is growing every day.
The Public Register site offers several additional services including:
direct links to company homepages;
information on investor relations;
message boards; and
These options can be viewed at the URL www.publicregister.com. The Public Register sites are well laid out and generally easy to navigate. One slight problem is that the only search option for companies is via alphabetical listing which was a little tedious as the user is presented with a long list to scroll down.
I carried out two searches on the annual report site (Scottish Power and Wal-Mart Stores) and whilst the Scottish Power search took me directly to their annual report I was less successful with Wal-Mart. The link offered turned out to be their online shopping service which, though interesting, was not really what I wanted! I did find a link on the home page to Company Information and from there to Financial Information but it was a rather long-winded search process.
CAROL (Company Annual Reports Online) is a UK-based company that can be found at www.carol.co.uk. The site markets itself as a "free corporate on-line service offering one point access to Company Annual Reports on-line and a range of other investor information". The reports are categorised under UK, Europe, Asia and USA and within each geographical area the annual reports pages offer the option to search for companies either alphabetically or by sector. Once the required company is located the annual report can viewed in full online.
I found the service easy to use although some of the information was rather out of date - for instance the Marks and Spencer Annual Report was for 1997. The site is also limited on the number of company reports offered but most of the major UK companies appear to be available and, no doubt, the service will continue to grow.
CAROL also offers a news service that "searches over 100 of the world's financial news sources - from CNN to the BBC - and Dow Jones to Business Week". This service, called "NewSource", is available as a link from CAROL's home page or directly at www.carol.co.uk/newsource/index.html. Users must register to use the news service but the form requires only name, job title and e-mail address so registration literally takes just a few seconds. Registered users can access the database of information which lists business news stories with details of source date and time and a clickable link to the full story. Stories include the latest news on mergers, acquisitions and take-overs world wide.
Another UK-based company is Northcote Internet Ltd, whose site can be found at www.northcote.co.uk. Northcote have searched the Web for companies which are publishing financial information about themselves online. This information, which includes annual reports, has been indexed by Northcote "to create a powerful resource for professional and private investors wanting corporate information".
In addition to annual reports, the company has researched many of the major firms with a presence on the Internet and have logged the location of their Investor Relations information. They say that "with just the click of a mouse you can instantly link to the information you want. There is no need to navigate your way around large corporate sites, endlessly downloading pictures you don't need to see". Companies can be located by a name search or by browsing through a range of options (FTSE 100, FTSE 250, FTSE 350 Higher Yield, etc.).
If, for instance you choose, FTSE 100 you are presented with a table giving you the names of the companies, the date of the latest annual report that is available and a notes section which details the type of information included (e.g. "Full annual report in PDF" or "Links to different presentations of the results including download and presentations to analysts and journalists"). Clicking on the annual report date brings up the report, clicking on the name of the company gives you details of additional information available. For instance, Tesco plc offers "Annual review and summary statement or full report dated 27 February 99" under the Annual Report option. By clicking on the company name users are additionally offered annual reports and interim statements from August 1995 to February 1999 and a direct link to Tesco's Financial Directory as well as access to their online shopping service (I'm afraid this is one that did tempt me and I have now placed my first order!).
I found the Northcote site very clearly laid out and easy to navigate. The information provided at each level is comprehensive and enables the user to make informed decisions about what to expect from their next click which is by no means always the case.
The final site I shall look at is that of Hemmington Scott which can be found at www.hemscott.com. This site offers comprehensive company information and includes sections on:
AFX News Today;
Earnings & Dividends;
Mergers & Acquisitions;
RNS-LSE Regulatory News;
Mergers & Acquisitions;
Top Risers & Fallers;
Directors Share Dealings;
Broker Forecasts; and
However, not all of these are available to the casual user. Some of the options are only available for a charge or to people who register with Hemscot.net as an Internet Service Provider customer. This is offered as a free service but is a rather annoying attempt at a tie-in. Unfortunately, there is no indication until you try to access a service whether or not it is freely available and this can be rather frustrating.
There is no doubt that there is a wealth of information on this site but I found it hard to navigate and the screens crowded. Once I had located what I was looking for (the companies pages in the first instance) I was impressed by the quantity and quality of information available but I was rather put off by the garish layout and found the animated information banners and boxes rather distracting. However, if users are able to ignore this (and after a while you do become immune to them) then the company information is comprehensive and is worth the struggle. The Hemmington Scott site also offers a news service that includes "all today's headlines" and the option to carry out archive searches on a company name.
I hope the above reviews will be a useful starting point for people wanting company annual reports over the Internet. Many of these reports are now freely and instantly available in a choice of formats (and can even be ordered in hard copy if you must!). Some of the sites listed also included news sections which provide more up-to-date company and general business information and news, as well as links to the home pages of the relevant companies. There are, of course, many additional sites offering similar services and, as with all Internet categories, more are added daily. I hope the sites I have reviewed above will, at least, give users a taste of the wealth of information available. much of it free of charge.
Sites reviewed in this article
To download an Adobe Acrobat Reader:www.adobe.com/prodindex/acrobat/readstep.htmlCompany Annual Reports Online: www.carol.co.uk/newsource/index.htmlHemmington Scott: www.hemscott.comNorthcote Internet Ltd: www.northcote.co.ukThe Public Register's Annual Report Service: www.annualreportservice.comThe Public Register's home page: www.publicregister.com