If you're interested in international investing, choosing investments registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the safest choice. That is because the SEC regulates foreign stocks and other assets traded on the exchanges, and foreign companies must file reports.
When foreign companies register with the SEC, you're able to use the financial reports they file as sources of information alongside reputable analyst reports and data from company websites to help you determine whether an international investment is right for your portfolio.
- You can access company filings through the SEC's EDGAR database. That makes it an easy way to find financial information.
- Corporate websites contain a wealth of information about a company. You can find financial statements, annual reports, news, and press releases.
- Financial statements summarize a company's assets, liabilities, and equity in a document called the "balance sheet."
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requires all publicly traded U.S. companies to report their financial information. Foreign companies traded in the U.S. also have to make yearly filings that contain the same content if they're listed on U.S. exchanges.
You can access company filings with the SEC on its EDGAR database. This is an easy way to find content about any company you want. Some websites, such as SECFilings.com or Edgar Online offer alerts and other features.
There are several reports filed with the SEC. The most common are:
- 10-K (Annual Report): Annual reports give you an overview of a company's fiscal year. These include financial statements and a discussion of the results by management in plain English terms.
- 10-Q (Quarterly Report): Quarterly reports provide content about a company's fiscal quarter. The report includes financial statements from the period and some management discussions.
- 8-K (Current Event): Current event reports cover any events that affect the company. Events range from basic press releases to new partnerships.
- Form 3, 4, and 5 (Insider Trading): Insider trading reports notify you when company insiders buy or sell shares. When that happens, it could indicate whether it is done outside of stock plans.
- Schedule 13D and 13G (Institutional Investment): Institutional investment reports provide notifications when an entity (such as a hedge fund or mutual fund) acquires a large stake.
Many foreign firms trade on U.S. exchanges as American depository receipts (ADRs), which are securities that reflect the price of a company's stock in its home country.
Some foreign companies file SEC reports. Others file reports you might not have access to or that won't list the facts you're looking for. Some foreign businesses that trade on non-U.S. exchanges often file only with their own country's regulatory body. These filings may only be in the company's native language, so you might not be able to analyze them.
Two common foreign SEC filings include:
- 20-F (Annual Report): These annual reports follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), which standardize the reports and help investors understand and compare companies.
- 6-K (Quarterly/Current): These are the foreign version of 8-K reports, including data on most ADRs, similar to that in a 10-Q.
Corporate websites can contain a wealth of content about a company. You can find financial statements, annual reports, news, and press releases. Companies also publish financial presentations you can look through. It's much easier to find financial data on company websites than through a government agency.
If you're looking for international information, you will benefit from these types of reports. They usually give shareholders information that isn't covered in SEC filings.
One type of financial statement, the balance sheet, summarizes a company's assets, liabilities, and equity. The income statement is a report that lists revenues and expenses. The statement of cash flows tells you how a company generates cash through operations, investing (buying and selling assets), and debt.
These statements might have other names that will depend upon the country they are based in. For instance, many countries follow the international financial reporting standards, while others may have their own standards to follow.
The International Finance Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) provide information that can help you find out which countries follow reporting standards. They also work to standardize financial reporting globally.
Company presentations can provide a good overview of past performance. They might also give projections or forecasts for the coming quarters or year. Many companies upload presentations on the investor relations section on their websites.
Company news and press releases can contain a wealth of information about operations, financial performance, or upcoming events.
Investor contacts such as Investor Relations Officers are good resources when you're looking for data you can't find.
Securities analysts are useful as well. While sell-side analysts (those who focus on selling investments) may be biased at times, they still offer some good content in one place. That makes the research a lot easier, especially if you're investing internationally.
While good sources of information, use analyst reports with caution. They are geared toward institutions and focus on their purposes, not the goals of retail investors.
Buy-side analysts (those who work for mutual funds or institutions that purchase investments) are an even better source of facts since they are typically not biased. The only issue is that their research isn't as widely available.
You can find analyst reports websites such as Morningstar and Yahoo Finance. You could also check with your broker because they provide a lot of data on their websites, newsletters, and mailouts.