Understanding SEC Documents

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In this article, I will provide some background on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, commonly known as the SEC, and I will demonstrate how to find filings made pursuant to the SEC rules in EDGAR, a free online database. The SEC is the agency of the U.S. federal government that is responsible for regulating the securities industry. As part of this mission, they require companies to file forms with them on a regular basis. Most of these documents are filed electronically and are then publicly available through the EDGAR database. There are many types of filings that companies can be required to make depending on their activities, but the most common and useful are the S-1, which is a general registration filed before a company offers their securities publicly, the 8-K, which is a form filed to report any current activity that requires public notice (for example, the release of a press release), the 10-K, which is an annual report, the 10-Q, which is a quarterly report, and the Proxy Statement, which must be filed prior to any shareholder meetings. Each of these documents includes helpful information about the company and they are a good place to start your research on public companies. Some of these documents will also include exhibits. These exhibits are a great source of additional information about a company and they can also be a source of example documents if you are interested in seeing a model of a particular type of agreement for example. In this video, we will focus on EDGAR’s search for company filings feature, which you see here. As you can see, there are many ways to search this database. If you are searching for public company filings, the best approach is to follow the first link in this list. This will take you to the new version of EDGAR’s search interface. If you have a company’s name, you can type it into the search box that you see here that says Company Name. For example, we can type General Electric. However, as you can see, this may return a long list of similarly named companies. For a more precise search, you can instead return to the Company Search page and use the Fast Search option to search using the ticker symbol if you know it. For example, I know that Disney’s ticker symbol is DIS so I can type that in the search box and click search. This will take me directly to the Walt Disney Company’s page on EDGAR and will show me their filings in order from most recent to oldest. If you see the document you are interested in, you can click on it to see links to both the form itself and any exhibits. If you don’t see the item you are interested in, you can narrow your search using the filtering options seen here. For example, you can type 10-K into the filing type box and click search to return all of Disney’s 10-Ks. Clicking on this 10-K, we can see that each exhibit is included in the document list making it easy to see agreements and other legal documents that are filed with the SEC. From here we can now click on any document we are interested in, so if we want to see this employment document, we can just click on it and we will see the full text. If you don’t have the company name or ticker symbol, EDGAR also allows you to search by file number, state, country or Standard Industry Classification Code by clicking on this more option and then filling out any of the resulting information that you have. Hopefully this video will help you to navigate through EDGAR. It is a helpful tool for researching public companies and for finding examples of legal documents. If you have any questions about this tutorial or would like more help with your research, please contact the Harvard Law School Library at asklib dot harvard dot edu.