Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR)
The Securities and Exchange Commission established EDGAR—or Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval in order to make corporate filings more efficient and accessible. All publicly traded companies are now required to submit documents to the SEC via this system. Time-sensitive corporate documents can be submitted almost instantaneously through EDGAR, as opposed to the public availability process before this system was created which could take weeks or even months.
Prior to the internet, investors had a difficult time accessing company financial data that was published every three months under the Securities Act of 1933.
Development for an electronic reporting system by the SEC started in 1984, with their first pilot launching soon after. The EDGAR system became operational in 1992, but companies were not yet mandated to file reports electronically. Starting 1993 though, the commission began requiring electronic filing gradually.
The SEC’s EDGAR system contains annual and quarterly statements, information on institutional investors’ holdings, and many other Forms for publicly traded companies. These filings include some of the most important information used by investors and analysts. Some public companies may be exempt from filing if they fall below certain “thresholds.”
EDGAR is a searchable database that contains electronic filings dating back over two decades. You can use the name of a company or individual to conduct a search, in the same way you would with an online engine. However, EDGAR also offers additional filters such as date range, location of executive offices, and type of file desired.
EDGAR can be used for more than just company research—it is also a great resource for mutual funds, variable insurance products, and confidential treatment orders. Confidential treatment orders restrict access to data that would otherwise be required to be filed.
The main downside to the EDGAR system is that the filings are highly simplified and often challenging to read compared to annual reports shareholders receive. Even though all the information is included in the filings, it can be tough to locate specific details within one large text file. Nevertheless, regardless of which company filed the information, it’s always structured in the same way.
Part II, Item 9 of a company’s annual report (or 10-K) will show any changes that have been made to its accounting methods.
Because more people have access to the internet, most companies post their EDGAR reports on their own websites. This is usually simpler for users than having to look through the entire EDGAR database, which can be difficult because there are often many reports from companies with similar names.
There are two types of corporate reports that can be accessed through EDGAR: annual and quarterly reports. Annual Reports (Form 10-K) include a company’s history, audited financial statements, descriptions of products and services, and an annual review of the organization. Quarterly Reports (Form 10-Q), on the other hand, only provide unaudited financial statements for the previous three months.
Some other reports that investors tend to look for are Registration Statements, which need to be filed before stock can go public; Form 8-K, which has information on events such as bankruptcy; Forms 3 and 4, containing ownership details; and lastly, Form 5 reporting transactions not revealed in Form.
Although EDGAR is a online platform that lets you access any public company’s electronic reports in the United States, its search function can be hard to use and not very straightforward. Much of this information nowadays can be found just as easily on a company’s website.