Learn More About Your Investments: Using XBRL In EDGAR

By Reyna Gobel AAA

Have you ever wondered how a company reports expenses or what its revenue streams are, but you don't have hours to spend searching through its full SEC filings? Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR) got a user-friendly makeover with the integration of the eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL)'s tagging system. The result has turned EDGAR from a filing system of publicly filed documents to a site for easily finding data about the companies in which you currently invest or are thinking about investing in. You can point and click your way to endless supplies of data. (To help you filter what is important to you in the financial statements, check out 12 Things You Need To Know About Financial Statements.)
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A History of SEC Reporting
After the stock market crash of 1929, the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) was established in 1934 to regulate all levels of stock trading, from the companies themselves to how stocks are bought and sold. While there were several additional regulations through the 1940s, the next major change didn't happen until 40 years later. In 1984, the SEC took a major leap forward by beginning to build Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval. By the mid-1990s all public companies filed investing-related information with EDGAR, such as quarterly and annual reports of income and expenses. (To learn more about the SEC, see The SEC: A Brief History Of Regulation.)

What is eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL)?
The XBRL is a system of tagging everything in a uniform way so that anyone can export data into their own spreadsheets to analyze and calculate ratios. XBRL is more about improving efficiency and access to data than increasing data availability. Before XBRL tagging existed, investors could view reports submitted by publicly listed companies to the SEC, but annual reports were only available in full format, which could be hundreds of pages. Now, with XBRL tagging, investors can look at individual parts of filings on a single page rather than looking through the entire report.

For example, search the name or stock ticker of a company in which you currently invest. Scroll to annual report and click on interactive data in the format column. You'll see a list of forms within the annual report, such as the consolidated statement of earnings, consolidated statement of financial position and the consolidated statement of cash flows. The screen will look less like a PDF and more like a user-friendly webpage. If you want to analyze the data further, you can export it to an Excel file on your computer.

It's not just what you can find in the data itself, but also the details of how the business is run. For instance, you can click on accounting practices and find out whether a company amortizes equipment in a year or over the course of several years. We can also determine which categories of income are reported for the different revenue streams. Investors can decide which companies to continue to invest in based on how their business is conducted. (Learn how to read between the lines and decipher the actual condition of a company, read How To Efficiently Read An Annual Report.)

Third-Party Tools
EDGAR's XBRL language is designed to be accessible for anyone to use. Third-party tools take the data everyone has access to and organize it to increase clarity and speed. Through third party tools, you could compare companies on a variety of parameters. Through a few minutes of research, investors can find a company that they are interested in, with accounting practices and a corporate structure they are searching for.

Third-party tools can also provide analysis on the companies being researched. When choosing a third-party tool, investor can look for ones that calculates financial ratios, or track world events and lets them know which companies might be effected. Industry news can also be an important feature of third-party tools when choosing one to use. Since XBRL is in its infant stage of development, it will continue to improve and evolve in the future. (Need help identifying what makes a company great? Check out Qualitative Analysis: What Makes A Company Great?)

Conclusion
Finding out everything you wanted to know about your investment portfolio will only take you a few minutes, so check out EDGAR with XBRL data tagging. Try a third-party tool or export data into your own Excel file and compare your current investments with investments you're thinking about pursuing. With the XBRL tagging system, investors are given quick and efficient access to financial information of publicly traded companies. (For more on financial statements, see Breaking Down The Balance Sheet.)

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