This article is from the How to Start an Investment Program tutorial, author unknown.
If you have an account set up with a full service brokerage house, you are already paying for company information every time you buy and sell a stock. Your commissions are considerably higher because, theoretically, your broker is providing you with the tools you need to pick a stock such as price-to-earnings ratio, the growth rate, the future earnings estimates, etc. It's the same as going to the full service pump at the gas station. You pay a little more, but you get your windows washed and the oil checked.
If your full service broker is NOT providing this information readily to you, fire them and move your account. Even the discount brokerage houses provide an abundance of research information, although you may be asked to pay a nominal fee for some of it. With the online brokers, the amount of company information varies, although the trend is to provide more information, not less. Once again, you may be asked to pay a small fee for certain reports.
Another method of obtaining company financial information is to just pick up the phone and call the company yourself. If you don't know how to reach them, call the main number of the stock exchange they are listed on and the operator will give you their phone number.
For companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, dial (212) 496-2500, the NASDAQ (Over the Counter) Exchange, dial (202) 496-2500, and the American Stock Exchange, dial (212) 306-1490. When you call the company, ask for the investor relations department.
Most will be happy to send you an information packet describing the products they make or the services they provide, along with their latest press releases. Be sure to ask them to include the most recent Annual Report, the 10-K, the 10-Q, and an Analyst Report if one is available. You can also ask the investor relations person (who, in many small companies is also the president, controller, or other high officer) about the company's prospects for the future, new products coming online, or other related financial questions that are not confidential. But do your homework on the company first. Don't ask pointed questions about the company's finances without having a firm background on their numbers.
There are other ways for the electronically adept and computer literate person to obtain detailed company financial information that is much faster that waiting for the company to send it by snail mail. Reuters, Dow Jones New Service, Value Line, Zacks, and Morningstar are but a few of the online financial services that will download background data, current statistics, and predictions about a company right to your personal computer.
If you watch the financial network CNBC, they offer a service that will fax a detailed company to report you for about $5. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, through the EDGAR database of corporate information, is another mother lode of financial data and it's free. Here you can access documents such as the 10-K and the 10-Q reports on over 8500 public domestic companies. In retrieving corporate data electronically, you won't get all of the fluff that you do in the mailed Annual Reports, but the nuts and bolts financial information is the same and that's really what you're looking for.