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Company Research: Primary Sources

What are primary sources?

Primary sources of information on companies include documents such as Annual Reports, SEC filings, (10-K, 10-Q, Prospectuses, Proxy Statements), News Releases, Company documents and webpage. This information may include presentations, interviews, videos and promotional materials in addition to financial statements. Note that SEC filings will only be available for public companies.

Why Use Primary Sources

Use primary sources to understand the company perspective on its mission and business.

  • gain insight into a company, its products/services and organizational structure
  • review financial documents
  • read management's letter to shareholders and the management discussion in the 10-K report
  • determine corporate mission, objectives, plans
  • gain insight into relationship's with stakeholders such as shareholders, customers and employees
  • read corporate policies concerning ethics, sustainability and issues of concern
  • identify community and social issues of interest to the corporation (fair trade, community relations, etc.)
  • identify public/private partnerships

Organization Charts

You can often determine the organizational structure based on your analysis of the key executives and their titles. Occasionally companies may post their organizational charts online, such as General Electric but often these can be difficult to find. It's important to insure that any image of an organizational chart be current.

SEC Filings

Most companies will post their primary SEC filings, such as the 10-K reports, on the investor's section of the company webpage but you can also search the SEC's Edgar database directly.

Key filings include

  • 10-K Report ( Annual report including financials and management discussion, segment data)
  • DEF 14A (Proxy statements, Executive compensation, Shareholder Initiatives)
  • 20F( Annual report of foreign companies trading on a US stock exchange)

Other Primary Sources

Remember that a primary source presents information from the company perspective. It may not represent the views of other stakeholders. Here are some suggestions for locating primary sources:

  • Most companies will post audio/video recordings of interviews with CEOs and other executives on the company webpage.
  • You can also search YouTube or Google for taped interviews with executives.
  • Corporate News Releases are usually posted on the company webpages; many companies will use social media also. News releases can also be found in databases such as ABI and LexisNexis Academic.
  • Look for reports and statements on the company webpage such as employee codes of conduct, statements about ethics, social responsibility and sustainability.
  • Company executives often are asked to give testimony at congressional hearings. This testimony is widely reported in the media and may be written or recorded.
  • Search for recent patent applications



Corporate Policies and Codes

Companies will often post documents and policies on their webpage. For example, companies choosing to make statements about corporate responsibiltiy or other issues will often make policy documents available. Here are some examples


Spotlight on Sustainability

Here are some examples of corporate policy statements related to the environment and sustainability. Many companies will also submit their reports to an organization called the Global Reporting Initiative.