How to Read an Annual Report
Every publicly traded company is required by the SEC(Securities and Exchange Commission) to provide annual reports to it's shareholders, and the general public as well. These annual reports contain very important financial information, as well of summaries of the companies progress made by the CEO, board members, etc. I use annual reports to decide whether or not im going to buy stock in that company.
How to obtain an annual report - There are basically two ways to get an annual report from a company. The first way is to call the Investor Relations department of a company and asked to have an annual report be sent to you. They send the annual reports free of charge to you, and it would usually arrive in 4 to 5 business days. These annual reports look like magazines, and are very professionally prepared. Usually if you go to the website of the company you're researching, they will have a "Investor Relations" link, and then you can fill out an online form with your name and address to recieve an annual report.
Inside of the annual report, you will find many things that are useful in helping you decide whether or not to invest in that company. Here's what you'll find in just about every annual report:
Corporate Profile - This is just a small summary of the basic operations of the company, what the company does, etc.
Letter from the President - This is a letter written by the president or CEO of the company, and most of the time the letters talk about the financial successes of the year. This letter may also mention major contracts or partnerships the company has formed, and give a general analyzation of the companies revenues and sales. Be careful when reading the letter from the President, because the business could be running to the ground, but while reading the letter you may get the immpression that all is well!
Independent Auditors' Report - Before a company can distribute their annual report to the public, the financial information inside of the annual report must be checked for accuary so shareholders are not misled. That's the job of the independent auditor. They auditing firm will search for evidence that supports the financial information in the Income Statement, Balance Sheet, etc., and then will write a letter if all is well.
Income Statement - The income statement in the annual report shows the net income or net loss for that particular year. It also shows net sales, cost of goods sold, and the expenses of a company. Income statements from different years can be compared to see if the company is improving financially. I like to compare income statements from the past 5 years, to see if the net sales and net income of a company is increasing.
Balance Sheet - The balance sheet shows the business' assets, and liabilities. The assets are listed in order of liquidity. The quicker an asset can be converted to cash, the more liquid it is. That is why Cash is at the top of the list of assets, because it is the most liquid asset. Under assets you may see items such as Accounts Recieveable (the amount of money that's owed to the company), Property and Equipment, and Other Invesments. In the list of Liabilities, you'll see items such as Accounts Payable (The amount the company owes to other businesses), Income Taxes Payable, and Long-term Debt.
Cash Flow Statement - The cash flow statement shows how the money the business makes, is moving in the business. The cash flow statement also shows if the business was able to increase their cash on hand during the year or not.
Risks - Usually in the back of the annual report, you'll find the risk that are associated with the business. Reading all the types of things that can affect the business is depressing, especially if you own stock in that company. But, to get a good idea of what can affect a business, reading the risks section of the annual report is the best way to go.