By Stephen Eckett
By Stephen Eckett
01 December 1999
When people think of investing online they are probably thinking of buying and selling shares using an online broker. But the Internet has much more to offer investors than merely the share-trading process, and one of its greatest uses is access to information on companies.
The starting point for research, and the source for much company data, is the company's annual report. First you should try the company's website through Market-Eye (www.market-eye.co.uk). Or you can request annual reports to be posted to you, through, for example, ICB (www.icbinc.com). If you have difficulties, Corporate Reports (www.corpreports. co.uk) and CAROL (www.carol.co.uk) are useful sites. Unfortunately, there is no one resource with a comprehensive list of online reports.
Looking at the reports can be tedious because they are presented differently, making comparisons with other companies difficult. There are sites that offer online databases of company profiles (brief snapshot information on the company). Although there are several sites offering these profiles, the data usually originates from the same source - Hemmington Scott (www.hemscott.co.uk). This company used to produce an annual book containing five-year financial data on UK-listed companies; this data is now available free on their website, including summary P&L, balance sheet, major shareholders, dividend dates. If the study of balance sheet intangibles is what gets you up in the morning, this is the site for you. Also on the site can be found broker forecasts and details of directors' share dealings, but these items require the user to be registered for the (free) Hemscott.net ISP service.
The main alternative to the above is an American service, Wright Research Center (www.wisi.com) which carries information on 18,000 companies from 50 countries. Useful features on this are an online currency converter (for comparing performance against international competitors) and the 10-year history of financial data.
Other sources of UK company data are Datastream (www. datastreaminsite.com) and the Company Briefs on the Financial Times web site (www.ft.com), although the latter are offer little more than the services above.
At this point, it might be worthwhile highlighting the difference between company data, and research (or analysis) on that data. The Internet has very quickly become a major source of company data (the type of information carried on the Hemmington Scott site), but it is not so good for research. Or rather, while plenty of research is disseminated via the Web or e-mail (and the Internet will soon be the only economically viable mass-delivery medium for intellectual property of any kind), the research, as yet, is provided by brokers and others to their clients. This tends to be on password-protected pages, not publicly accessible. Where research is available it tends to be patchy and/or require payment of a subscription fee.
That said, there are a few nuggets online. Consensus earnings forecasts and aggregated brokers' recommendations can be found on the FT and Hemmington Scott web sites; and the best one-page research summaries are at Yahoo (finance.uk.yahoo. com). Sporadic information can be found on more focused sites; for example, Equity Development (www.equity-development. co.uk) produces research on smaller quoted companies.
But with the Internet, no longer do we have to restrict ourselves to just the UK for information or investment opportunities. Many UK companies' shares are also traded in the US, and there is a mass of information on these companies available from US websites. Advantages in the US are that listed companies have a three-monthly reporting requirement (as compared to six months in the UK); and these submissions must be made electronically, making the information almost instantaneously available to all investors (no longer do the large fund managers get first pickings of market useful information). Two of the best company profile web sites are Hoovers (www. hoovers.com) and Market Guide (www.marketguide. com). Try plugging in the symbol GLX (the US ticker code for Glaxo), to compare with the data available in the UK. Forecasts are available from Zacks (www.zacks.com), and a collation of company research from Multex (www.multex.com).
Having researched the UK company in the US, the next logical stage would be to buy the shares in the US, thus benefiting from lower commission charges, smaller bid-offer spreads and no stamp duty.
The writer is author of 'Investing Online' and a director of Global-Investor.com
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