Harness Technology to Stay Informed During Earnings Season

Published on October 14, 2010

As we move into the height of third quarter earnings season, many investors may feel overwhelmed when it comes to staying on top of earnings announcements for portfolio companies and investment candidates.  Without a solid system for keeping abreast of company filings, it is inevitable that you will either miss a report entirely or only read it several days after it is initially released.  This is particularly true for smaller companies that are not regularly covered by analysts or major newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal.  How can investors confidently stay informed?

We take it as a given that intelligent investors always examine the primary source documents released by companies rather than relying on analyst reports, newspaper articles, and other third party sources.  Public companies are required to file financial information and other material documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission and all of the documentation is available online through the EDGAR system.  In this article, we will discuss an easy way to stay on top of SEC filings using the EDGAR system and Google Reader.

Using the SEC EDGAR Database

During earnings season, most companies will announce quarterly results through a press release that provides management’s summary of the quarter and condensed financial information.  The press release is filed with the SEC as a 8-K Current Report.  At a later point, the company will file a 10-Q report with much more information.  Some smaller companies do not issue press releases and only file the 10-Q.  Investors much keep an eye out for both types of filings.  Fortunately, it is possible to easily automate delivery of such filings.

The image below shows the main company search screen of the EDGAR database.  There are a number of potential options for searches, but we will simply use the ticker symbol for a company that we follow:  Markel Corporation (Ticker:  MKL).  Click on the image for a larger view.

After clicking on the Find Companies button, we are presented with a list of results (click on the image for a larger view):

We are presented with a list of the latest company filings for Markel.  The latest entry is a 13F-HR filing made on August 9 which lists the equity positions held in Markel’s portfolio as of June 30, 2010.  The next entry is the company’s 10-Q report for the second quarter which was filed on August 6.

If we wish to track only 10-Q reports, we can enter “10-Q” in the “Filing Type” text box and hit the search button.  However, if we filter on a specific filing type, we could miss other important information such as 8-K current reports and future 13F-HR filings so we will leave the search results unchanged.  To view the actual filing, click on the “Documents” button and then on the appropriate form.

Using RSS Feeds and Google Reader

While the EDGAR system is a great way to look up company information, it is not practical to look at the database every day for each individual company to see if something new has been posted.  Fortunately, we do not have to constantly check the database because we can create a RSS Feed based on our search criteria.  The image below highlights the RSS Feed icon in the search results area:

After clicking on the RSS Feed link, your browser may allow you to add the feed to a specific RSS Reader or you may be presented with the raw RSS Feed text.  If you are provided with a page allowing you to add the feed to Google Reader, you may do so directly.  If not, copy the RSS Feed URL and save it for use in your RSS Reader of choice. Any RSS Reader will allow you to import a feed if you have the URL for the RSS Feed available.  For example, adding the following URL to any RSS Feed Reader will import the feed for Markel:


Our preferred RSS Feed Reader is Google Reader which allows for a great deal of customization to suit the reader’s needs.  Feeds can be organized into multiple folders, individual items can be “starred” for later reference, and useful statistics are available.  The following image shows the Markel RSS Feed within Google Reader (click on the image for a larger view).

To view the actual filing, simply click on the link that appears in Google Reader (for example, the 13F-HR report can be viewed by clicking on the link shown above).

As you can see, there are numerous other folders that have been set up to categorize industries, portfolio companies, and other types of content such as blogs and networking posts.  Google Reader can manage any content that is available as an RSS Feed.

Once Google Reader, or any other RSS Reader, is set up with the SEC EDGAR feeds for your portfolio companies and candidates, it is simple to check Google Reader once or twice a day to keep abreast of all filings that have been made by company management.  Many companies also offer email notifications and other ways of staying informed but by using RSS feeds, all of this information can be available in one place which greatly increases efficiency and avoids the risk of missing a filing when a flood of earnings reports come in.

So while there are no easy ways to decipher creative accounting, at least you’ll be up to date on the filings!

Disclosure:  No position in Markel Corporation which was just used as an example for the article.

Harness Technology to Stay Informed During Earnings Season
Tagged on: