Company Research Guide

This guide identifies sources for basic business and company information, but not specific resources for broad business disciplines such as accounting, marketing or management.

Determining Company Status: Public v. Private

Determining the status of a company is the most important part of conducting company research. Public and private companies differ considerably in the availability of information about their operations, therefore you should have a basic understanding of their differences.

a. Publicly Traded Companies

Publicly traded companies sell stock to the general public on a stock exchange. Anyone who purchases stock in a company owns part of that company. As a result, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) requires public companies to disclose financial and other information to their shareholders, so that investors can determine for themselves if their company's securities are/continue to be a good investment (see Required Disclosure Filings on this page. This makes researching public companies much easier than most private companies. More information on researching these types of companies can be found on the Securities Library Guide.

When researching a specific publicly traded company, the investor relations section of their website is frequently the best place to find current press releases, company facts, SEC filings, and corporate representatives to contact for further questions. Note that the information that an investor relations contact can give any member of the public (whether they are or are not a shareholder) is highly restricted: anything that is currently both material and nonpublic may not be selectively disclosed as it would be a violation of SEC regulations.

b. Private/Closely Held Companies

Privately or closely held businesses, are those for which there is no public ownership of its shares or assets. Although closely held businesses tend to be small, family owned, or jointly owned by a small group of people, they can also be large or wholly owned subsidiaries of major publicly traded companies. It should be kept in mind that the majority of businesses in the United States are private. Because privately held companies do not sell shares to the public, they are not required by law to report financial information to the SEC. As a result, it is usually more difficult to locate detailed information about a private company's operations.

c. Subsidiaries

A subsidiary is a distinctly separate firm controlled by a parent company. A subsidiary is referred to as "wholly owned" when 100% of its stock is owned by its parent company. Large publicly held multi-national companies often own dozens of smaller privately owned subsidiaries for which financial information is filed under the name of the parent company. As a result, having knowledge of whether a private firm is a subsidiary of a public corporation is extremely important when looking for company information.

For example:
Travelscape, Inc., a travel agent and reservation services company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Expedia Group, Inc., which is a public company traded on the NASDAQ stock market.