Read, Listen and Learn

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“Go ahead and huff and puff. You’re not getting in—not by the hairs of our chinny chin chin.”

Yes, it’s a take-off on a nursery rhyme. It’s also a company’s response to an analyst’s question, filed as part of Form 8-K, a report that publicly traded companies are required to submit to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

And here you’ve been avoiding those regulatory forms, believing them to be loaded with dry, boring financial statements.

They are, of course. They’re also a valuable way to keep abreast of what’s happening with your stocks, even if you’re not numbers-oriented.

Most 8-Ks and other required reports are less humorous than the one quoted above, which was filed by Expeditors International of Washington, Inc. in July 2003. But learning about the environment a company operates in and the risks and competition it faces is a wise move. Especially when the information is free, courtesy of the SEC, and accessible on line.

To view the filings for companies in your portfolio, try searching EDGAR. That’s the SEC’s Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval database, located at http://www.sec.gov. EDGAR contains filings for many publicly traded companies.

You can also check the web sites of individual companies for direct links to their reports. On some sites you can even sign up to receive e-mail notification whenever a filing occurs.

Not a reader? Use your telephone instead. Thanks to the SEC’s fair disclosure rules, you can listen in on the quarterly earnings conference calls of publicly traded companies. The company’s officers typically spend an hour or so reviewing financial results and answering questions from analysts, and the call’s usually toll-free. If it’s not, you may be able to access an audio link on the investor relations page of the company’s web site.

These live—and sometimes lively—discussions provide insight into the personalities and expertise of the officers, as well as highlighting specific problems or areas of concern. You can pick up the industry lingo and learn about planned expansions, workforce reductions or even new menu offerings. As an example, CBRL Group, which owns Cracker Barrel Restaurants, announced a new entree during one of their recent end-of-quarter calls. Was this “hard” research data? No, but it was a brief—and interesting—snapshot into the overall picture of the company’s plans for maintaining market share.

Learning about the companies whose stocks you own is a smart way to understand and participate in the management of your investment portfolio.

So dial in. Or visit EDGAR. He’s got tales to tell.

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