Publicly traded companies who have their shares listed on stock exchanges are required to file regular financial statements and disclosures with regulators, such as the securities and exchange commission (SEC) in the United States. Among the most widely read of these are a company's annual report, which tells investors and analysts how the company has performed over the previous fiscal year (FY), how its businesses look going forward, and summarizing corporate financials for use in fundamental or ratio analysis through scrutinizing the balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flows.

In the old days, shareholders would receive the annual report by mail or through their broker. Thanks to the Internet, finding financial reports is easier and quicker than ever. Nowadays, nearly every reputable company has an easy to follow investor relations section on its website that is a wealth of information including an archive of its annual reports, often going back several years.

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) is an excellent example of a business that uses its website to get information out to its shareholders, analysts, and prospective investors. It is very easy to find a direct link to its investor relations section. This part of the Disney website contains a downloadable version of its annual report, as well as stock quotes, an investor newsletter, archived conference calls and even the opportunity for current shareholders to sign up for electronic reports. The best part about these online investor relations sections is their extra nuggets of hard-to-find information. For example, most companies will use these spaces to offer detailed info on past acquisitions and stock splits not always available on other financial portals.

If you want to dig deeper and go beyond the slick marketing version of the annual report found on corporate websites, you'll have to search through required filings made to the Securities and Exchange Commission. All publicly-traded companies in the U.S. must file regular financial reports with the SEC. These filings include the annual report (known as the 10-K), quarterly report (10-Q), and a myriad of other forms containing all types of financial data.

Reports are filed through a system known as EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system). EDGAR performs automated collection, validation, indexing, acceptance and forwarding of submissions by companies and others required by law to file forms with the SEC. Information on EDGAR can be found on the SEC's website, where you can search through forms as well as familiarize yourself with the system using its EDGAR tutorial.

Be warned, the tools on the SEC's site are still cumbersome at best. For more user-friendly sites, try the following:

EDGAR Online is a subscription-based site offering dozens of products on any type of information filed with the SEC. You won't find anything free, but if you need sophisticated services, EDGAR Online is the site for you.