Volume 17, No. 3

 

2007 Annual Reports: What Investors Need To Know  Once-a-year events have a special cachet that resonates with people. Usually the resonation has to do with getting people to do something, like shopping: end of car model year closeouts, for instance. Christmas. Valentine’s Day. President’s Day. Memorial Day. And so on.

There’s a once-a-year event facing investors soon, and it also has to do with shopping. It’s the arrival of the annual reports and 10-Ks. Armed with the information packed within those documents, investors can ask managements better, tougher questions. They’ve got more data to analyze, and they can question the assumptions that held them captive to management dodging all year long. In short, the once-a-year gift of annual reports and 10-Ks lets investors shop harder, and lets them base investment decisions on facts, not hunches.

To get the most out of the annual reports and 10-Ks, it helps to have a plan. Blindly trying to bulldoze through all umpteen pages of a 10-K and expecting "something important" to pop up and hit you in the face is pure magical thinking, at best. At the other extreme, believing there are just a few "most important disclosures" that will reveal the future is also pure magical thinking. A better strategy is to be aware of the overall environment; map out ways that it can affect the company under review; and look for information in the accounting that either supports or contradicts what you expect. Learn from the reading. Rinse, lather, repeat. Here’s a look at the new information in this year’s annual reports that can help you shape your thinking and expectations about your companies - and a few reminders about the perennial soft spots in financial reporting.

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