Finding current information on companies is easier now than ever before. Thanks to the Internet and abundent reference Web sites, there is no excuse for investing in the dark.
One of the best sources for information is directly from the forms they must file with the Securities & Exchange Commission. The best financial picture of a company available for free: the Form 10-K.
Companies must file Form 10-K within 90 days of the end of their fiscal year with the SEC. It contains detailed information on the company, its history, risks and a three-year financial history.
The Form 10-QIts smaller cousin, the 10-Q is filed after the end of each quarter and contains much of the same information. No fourth quarter form is filed, since the company must file the 10-K at the end of the fiscal year.
You can get the paper version of the 10-Q and 10-K reports from the company or through your broker, but it is quicker to get it online.
The primary source for this information is the SEC and its EDGAR database. All the information is there and it is free.
The SECThe downside is it is not the most user-friendly site. Once you figure it out (they have a tutorial), the process of searching for a specific company and these forms is relatively simple.
There are several subscription-base sites such as Edgar Online.com and 10K Wizard, which offer up the same information in easier to use formats and nicer packages. Some of the services will alert you when companies you follow file other forms.
Forget the Annual ReportIf you want to get to know a company, skip the annual report and read the 10-K instead. There are no flowery letters from the chairman or glossy pictures of happy workers - just plenty of information that is required by law.
Companies and officers can and do get in serious trouble for falsifying these reports. The SEC takes its mission to protect the investor seriously.