This guide is about Secondary Research.
It's a 3300+-words guide.
So, grab a fine cup of coffee, sit back and read the guide till the end.
Later, you need to read it one more time to apply the types and methods of secondary research used here with examples.
All You Need to Know about the Role of Primary and Secondary Research?
This is definitely not the first time that we, at FinanceWalk, cover primary and secondary research for equity.
We’ve previously discussed how much you should rely on secondary vs primary research. (Simple answer: secondary research is there to form the basis of your research analysis while primary research seeks to fill the gaps left by the former).
We’ve also addressed the question of “Which one is better: primary or secondary research?” (Simple answer: they both come with pros and cons but, at the end of the day, need to be used complementarily).
Both those posts cover a wealth of information, like what secondary research actually is, what sources you need to consult, and how to go about compiling a useful financial analysis report. Make sure to check them out and create your very own checklist of sources, formatting standards, and best practices in equity reporting.
Here’s a primer on best practices for equity research analysis from a former Morgan Stanley pro:
However, it seems we’re far from having exhausted the topic of secondary research for equity.
Today we’re bringing you a comprehensive guide and checklists of all the best free and paid sources amd resources for your research. Read on and make sure you consult as many of them as possible.
Bear in mind that most of the sources we’ve included are completely free of charge and available to any financial analyst and investor.You can either access them online, or at your local library.
Others are available via a progressively charging subscription—how much you end up paying for them entirely depends on your interest and research thoroughness.
Secondary Research: Free and public information
All publicly traded companies have to register with their SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission). As such, you can find their filings and other information, both on the majority of IPO websites, as well as on the SEC site. Other valuable free, public resources include government agencies and NGOs.
1. Company Website
Most IPOs, especially those relegated to the mid-sized and large capital market segments, will do their best to make their information as easily accessible to you as possible. One such example is featured below: Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG, GOOGL).
You can access the ‘Investor Relations’ section of their site by navigating to their home page (www.google.com), clicking on ‘About’, then ‘Learn More’, under ‘Investor Relations’.
Image source: investor.google.com
Most public companies will feature such a link on their site. In Google’s case, the page above features news, current stock information, information on their Class C shares, archives of their earnings webcast, and their income statement.
2. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website: www.sec.gov
There’s little about the securities market that you can’t find on the SEC website. Though this might seem arid at first, go ahead and check out the forms page. You’ll learn about all the forms which public companies need to file with SEC, plus reporting requirements for investment companies.
You also get a useful dose of context handed to you, as the SEC site includes information on the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Securities Act of 1933, the Trust Indenture Act of 1939, and plenty of others.
The importance of filed forms is self-evident once you start browsing through them. This is literally the most accessible and detailed info source on whether or not you should hold, sell, or buy a certain stock.
Your first encounter with the forms page might seem a bit daunting. So here are some pointers on where you need to look for solid, useful information for your secondary research for equity:
- The 10-Q and 10-K forms. The former includes quarterly results and is included into the latter, which is a yearly report for investors. It might be interesting to note that it takes an average of 2,000 hours of work each year to assemble all the information.
So, what makes it so valuable? It includes just about any relevant information on the company at hand:
- Financial highlights: fully audited financial statements (income and balance sheets, cash flow statement, and all the documentation required to prove this);
- Operational highlights: main competitors, business risks, etc.;
- General information: organization structure, subsidiaries, executive salaries, history, equity, etc.
- The 20-F form. This is the equivalent of a 10-K for companies based overseas, but whose stock is traded in the U.S.
- The 13F form. This form includes all the equity managed by mutual funds, hedge funds, or other types of investment organizations, worth at least $100 million. All the securities in manager portfolios have to be listed herein—the current list covers over 17,500 securities.
- The S-1 form. This is the mandatory SEC filing which all companies that go public need to use, in order to have their securities registered. The 8-page form needs to include all the business and financial information of the company, which investors then use to research the IPO.
The website also features a search engine called EDGAR, which allows access to all documents and forms filed by publicly traded companies.
The EDGAR home page includes a tutorial on quick research, information on filing types, as well as tips on CIK (Central Index Key) searches. CIK searches provide the most comprehensive and accurate filings lists. Featured below, the results of a simple search by Alphabet Inc. All documents can be accessed online.
Image source: Search EDGAR
3. Free government and non-governmental agencies
Aside from the information directly provided by the companies and the SEC, there are plenty of direct government agencies and NGOs, which strive to keep the public interested, the information open, and the data verified by an independent third party.
In a certain sense, this abundance of third-party sources can be chalked up to the recession and its devastating effects. There’s a lot more public interest in public companies these days and, consequently, a lot more competition to keep investors informed.
Here are the top such sources worth consulting:
The Federal Reserve
There’s a lot of valuable information on the website of the U.S. Federal Reserve, including a news section, one which explains the Fed’s monetary policy, and a virtual treasure trove of economic research and data.
Investors will likely be interested in taking economic trends into account, before placing their earnings into one single stock. Published reports deal with both micro- and macroeconomic issues.
There’s also a great resource of all the reporting forms used by the Federal Reserve. These are used in gathering data both about consumers, but also about bank holdings, deposit holdings, credit institutions, and securities.
FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data)
The U.S. Federal Reserve has 12 branches all across the country’s territory. Perhaps the most important resource powered by one of these branches is the Economic Research website of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Head down to the dedicated research section of the website and browse as many as 292,000 US and international time series, culled from 80 sources. You can browse important info, such as the urban consumer price index, the evolution of the U.S. GDP and the percentage of the GDP represented by total public debt.
The World Bank
Operating under the motto, “Working for a World Free of Poverty”, the U.S.-based World Bank provides website visitors with a multitude of information sources, included under its Data, Research, Learning, and News sections. Its Publications section features a search through the myriad of Open Knowledge Repository research reports.
You can browse its data-rich website by topic, country, and many other categories. Above, see a screenshot of the United States page. By clicking on more data, you can access sections on all aspects of the U.S. economy, including Corporate and Operational Procurement for Business.
OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development)
The OECD functions under the motto ‘Better policies for better lives’. Its website covers a comprehensive range of topics, including governance, public policies, corruption and bribery, climate change, and, of course, finance.
The organization also publishes a Financial Market Trends journal, which is accessible via a paid subscription. It’s sold as part of the OECD Journals package and published twice a year.
If you’re looking for free resources, though, you’ll be able to find plenty great ones on the home page of the Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs. To get a glimpse of the topics they cover, check out the screenshot above.
4. Free finance websites
a. Yahoo! Finance
Though Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) has lost its edge in many other ways, it still provides one of the most comprehensive information repositories for each stock. Check out our Alphabet Inc. screenshot above.
The page includes the highest and lowest stock price for the year, live quotes, price range for the day, and yields from dividends. For more of a bird’s eye view, you can also check out Key Statistics, Company Events, and Analyst Estimates.
b. Google Finance
Not only does this section of Google cover all the regular topics, like News, Portfolios, and Domestic Trends. It also screens for the evolution of stocks and provides a snapshot of the market, presented as the Market Summary.
When signed into Google, the site, though still in Beta, is also highly customizable. You can create a virtual portfolio for free, get quotes (the site shows 180 of your latest searches), and analyze industry sector trends.
Google is currently offering country-specific versions of this site for the US, UK, Canada, China, and Hong Kong.
c. MSN Money
Just as customizable and rife with information is MSN Finance. When signed in, you can add stocks to a watchlist, screen for prices, and visit the broker center for real-life expertise. The ‘popular searches’ feature is also a great way to get tipped off on what stocks are attracting attention.
Investopedia is possibly the most comprehensive educational resource available online for free, for those who have just started trading. Aside from this, it also offers a Stock Simulator game, to teach newbies the tricks of the trade.
Though its main purpose is educational, Investopedia also provides some great analyses and opinions, organized by sector and market.
What sets Wikinvest apart from the other resources listed above is that it goes beyond providing a flow of company news, events, press releases, and stock evolutions. It also tosses in a hefty dose of analysis into the mix.
Indeed, others’ foregone conclusions may, at times, come across as biased. However, Wikinvest provides as good a starting point as any, for your secondary research for equity.
(Partly free) Subscription-based secondary research sources
Now that we’ve come to the partly free and paid subscriptions section of our post, it’s worth asking that age-old question:
What makes for good secondary research for equity?
The answer couldn’t be any simpler than this: “It’s all about leaving no stone unturned”. As you will see below, covering all the available financial websites out there would be next to impossible. As such, we’re only including vetted, verified, time-tested sources.
But what is important to bear in mind, especially if you’re a beginner financial analyst, is that many of the resources that charge a subscription fee also provide a hefty dose of free content. Some earn their revenue from data subscriptions, others from financial strategy newsletters, while others even offer paid financial advice.
The point is that if you know where to look for solid information, you can’t fail at the secondary research game.
1. Financial news wires
If you’re at all interested in finance, then there’s no way you’ve never visited market watch. Its home page notably features a flow of news and market information. For the untrained researcher, this might seem overwhelming, especially if you choose to zoom in on a single company.
Avoid getting a case of ‘inability to see the forest because of the trees’.
However, if you head to the Markets tab, you can glean important current trends. For instance, as featured above, you can get a sense of the ECB’s decision to lift the Euro and its effect on US markets.
One of the most notable stand-out features of the ThomsonsReuters (NYSE:TRI) website is the overview of market sectors it provides, as can be seen in the image above. The site also features graphs with the evolution of all the main indexes (Dow Jones, NASDAQ, and S&P), plus Gainers and Losers charts for the NYSE,
Two interesting features of the Bloomberg Business website are the Insights section, chockful with well-written analyses, and the Markets section. The site also allows customization, in that logged in users can watchlist stocks they’re interested in.
Also, consider downloading the publisher’s mobile app, for keeping an eye out on companies that are in the process of releasing major financial news.
The most remarkable aspect about SeekingAlpha, aside from its rapid ascent to popularity over the past few years, is that it’s a ‘crowd-sourced’ repository of financial information.
Aside from seasoned analysts and news releases, the site (which requires free sign-up for accessing the bulk of its articles) regularly features pieces from investors and finance bloggers. Also, check out their forum-like StockTalk section.
2. Brokerage companies
We’re going to assume that if you’ve started building a career in equity research, you also have access to an (online) broker or stock custodian. If you don’t, you should get one immediately, because the best brokerage companies offer free access to equity research.
For the past several years, Fidelity has been consistently ranking as one of the world’s biggest and most highly regarded online brokerage firms. In terms of equity research, Fidelity is next to impossible to beat.
Its Stock Research Center features the top rated companies by sector, with a methodologically sound score, analyst opinions, and stocks popular with Fidelity clients. They work with some of the biggest names in equity research, among which Reuters, S&P Capital IQ, Starmine, and Zacks.
The Fidelity Stock Screener is featured below. Like investment strategy tests, it’s usually a high-priced feature, so make sure to sign on and make good use of it.
Some of Fidelity’s main competitors include:
- TD Ameritrade (NYSE:AMTD) – featured in the screenshot below;
- E*TRADE (Nasdaq:ETFC) – offers third-party analysis, its own stock screener, and equity trading education;
- Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCHW)
Bear in mind that all these companies can be classified as online discount brokers and, save for some more sophisticated research features, they provide most information free of charge. This contradicts the model imposed by traditional brokerage companies like Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS).
Bulge bracket brokers will usually only allow their internal analysts to access certain information. Since that data is not typically made available to the public, it gives clients an edge.
3. Reputed investors
a. Oaktree Capital
Alongside other super investors, like Bruce Berkowitz (Fairholme Fund), or Ken Heebner (CGM), Howard Marks is a billionaire and a revered celebrity in the world of investment.
Marks publishes ‘Memo from Howard Marks’ on the company website—and you can access the entire archive, going back to 1990. If anything, reading them is a fascinating glimpse into a super investor’s research process.
b. Berkshire Hathaway
Don’t let the website design fool you. It might not look as glossy as what you get from Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs, but the contents are all the more geared toward educating investors and researchers alike.
To boot, the site contains a sizeable collection of letters to shareholders, published throughout the years by none other than Warren Buffett himself. If you’re interested in getting the full scope of his approach, the entire collection of letters, unabridged and starting from 1965, can be bought on Amazon.
4. Fee-based publications and resources
a. Daily journals and periodical magazines
By and large, these are must-reads, which only provide the baseline information. They’re not likely to give you a competitive edge, not through their free online content, nor through the paid subscriptions (either to their published periodicals or subscribers-only website content).
However, if you don’t read at least handful of these sources regularly, how are you going to know which information is rare and therefore valuable?
The top titles in the field, which will keep you up to speed on the daily news, include:
- The Wall Street Journal – website featured in the screenshot below; also publishes daily newspaper.
- Barron’s – owned by WSJ, published weekly.
- Financial Times
- The Economist – periodical, owned by the Financial Times
Periodically published magazines:
- Money Magazine
- The Columbia Journal Review
- American Banker
b. Subscription-based research sources
Many companies nowadays charge a specific fee for their formal approach to equity research and published reports. Several of them offer some of the basic information for free, in hopes of incentivizing users to pay for the rest of the content.
Some of the top contenders in this field include
- Morningstar – focus on individual equity research, charges $200/year. It issues a star rating for each company, but also includes valuation estimates, stock risk insights, financial ratio quality, and more.
- Standard & Poor’s
- Value Line
You can also access the sort of information compiled by these sources from the companies’ own websites and the SEC. But, if you can afford it, an informed analyst’s opinion can’t hurt. Also, Morningstar and Value Line provide a fee-based investment recommendation newsletter.
A lot of the companies mentioned above also manage assets, so it’s important to understand that they may be using research just to generate income for their shareholders. In that sense, it might be worth looking for insights from the super investors mentioned above.
That being said, perhaps one of the most lauded investment advice newsletters comes from The Motley Fool (website featured below), which runs an entire network of successful sites.
d. Annual fee information aggregators
These are companies which provide information collection services, by literally amassing years’ worth of published company financial reports. They have access to decades of such data and their search capabilities are typically very sophisticated.
Some of the biggest names in this segment include:
- Mergent Online – boasts access to financial reports for 95% of all companies around the world.
- Edgar Online – helps with screening for stocks in a similar way as Mergent.
- Hoovers Online – also provides information on private companies, which might prove especially useful for those interested in the direct competition of public enterprises.
e. Industry trade journals
Just like American Banker mentioned above is a reliable source from news on all companies in the banking industry, so you can be sure there are trade journals for all major industry sectors. For instance, for health care and pharma, you can always subscribe to U.S. Pharmacist, Pharmacy Times, and plenty more.
The digital edition of American Banker
5. Educational and institution-level resources
If you’re serious about your secondary research for equity (i.e. you’re studying the field, or forging a career in a corporate setting), chances are you’re going to be working with far more complex data aggregator tools. Here are some of the top choice, based on level:
Suggested: Read more about Equity Research Report
Ideal for university students, as it does a good job at simulating the actual stock trading and equity research experience.
b. S&P Capital IQ
Owned by Standard & Poor’s, CapitalIQ brings together a host of resources, such as the SEC filings of each company, news releases, S&P ratings, and other qualitative company data. It doesn’t support trading, but all stock price feeds are updated in real time.
This is one of the most sophisticated secondary research tools out there. At close to $2,000/mo., it’s also one of the most expensive in the industry. Aside from equity, it also researches fixed income opportunities, futures, options, and other types of assets.
With all its complexities, Bloomberg is ideal for traders with an interest in sophisticated investment vehicles.
d. Fact Set
Much like Bloomberg, Fact Set is expensive and complex. The research culled and delivered via its complex interface is provided by third parties. Its direct competition includes Zacks Pro and Reuters.