FIVE EASY PIECES
The S.E.C. Starter Kit
For companies that have sold stock; also for some private companies that have sold bonds. Recent filings are on Edgar and so are available on the 'Net (it's easiest to go to the S.E.C. home page, http://www.sec.gov) . Older filings are available through Disclosure Information Services, 262-7070. For info on the major forms, see above. The S.E.C. web site also includes releases about recent litigation and administrative proceedings; these are often listed under individuals' names.
New York State Attorney General's Office
The state requires people selling things like limited partnerships here
to file documents; they are not reviewed, but they are at the AG's office.
Richard Barr is the flack, 416-8064. The state is also one place to get
a broker's CRD (see below)
Secretaries of State
For incorporation records. Cites are on-line (INCORP, in Nexis) . But
getting the actual documents from Albany is a nightmare. Useful if you
suspect, for example, that two or three businesses are really being run
by the same people.
Sometimes you'll find stuff at the F.C.C., F.D.A., F.T.C. or other agencies.
It's always a good idea to make friends with the flacks, especially if
you will be doing a Freedom of Information Act filing. For routine documents,
the Washington Document Service, at 800-728-5201, is useful.
The CRD (for Central Registry Depository; don't ask)
The National Association of Securities Dealers and state securities
regulators operate a database tracking disciplinary histories of people
in the brokerage industry. A summary report is available from the NASD
at 800-289-9999 or call the flacks: 202-728-8884. State regulators will
often give out more complete versions; individuals can call 202-737-0900
to get the number for their state's agency (in New York, the Attorney General's
Bureau of Investor Protection, at 416-8222, will check the database for
you) . I usually call Kelly Heffron at the North American Securities Administrators
Assn. (NASAA) at 202-737-0900. Anybody who sells securities should be registered.
The American Bar Association's Center for Professional Responsibility, at 312-988-5319, operates a national database tracking lawyers' public discipline records; the ABA also suggests checking with state bar associations. The National Fraud Infocenter (www.fraud.org) Has links to lots of enforcement people, including some AGs, and info on current scams. Generally worth a look.
Check state and federal courthouses, especially in the area where the
company has its headquarters. Mead Data Central's Lexis can give you decisions,
but it's worth looking at complaints, both criminal and civil. There are
services that will get court documents for you, though it's not cheap;
I've used Research Information Services at 800-452-3320.
Dun & Bradstreet is on Dialog and Newsnet; sometimes all they have
is an address, other times they have lots of info. They will send you a
report on a company's history and background, payment record, finances,
and lawsuits, liens and judgments. The cost is $75. 800-362-2255
People who own big stakes in a company are listed in the 10-K; outsiders
who buy big chunks must file 13-Ds with the S.E.C. Big institutions (like
mutual funds and pension plans) file 13-Fs every quarter with all of their
holdings. CDA (800-232-6362) compiles these so that you can tell who owns
stakes in individual companies (this is their Spectrum 3 report) ; it's
also available on Bloomberg.
The last resort. Remember that most of these folks are in business to
sell stock, not to analyze companies. Be especially wary of the underwriters'
analysts (these are the guys who sponsored -- and profited from -- the
stock sale) . Analysts are listed by the company they follow in Nelson's
Directory of Investment Research