2-Minute Tip: 10-Q Essentials

by May 23, 2017
10-Q filings tell a business reporter plenty about a company's financial health. (Calculator image by Alexander Stein via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)

10-Q filings tell a business reporter plenty about a company’s financial health. (Calculator image by Alexander Stein via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)

The 10-Q, a publicly traded company’s quarterly report filed with the SEC, is a multi-purpose tool. You can use it to break news, to get a better understanding of the companies you cover, or simply to fill in the gaps as you report and write.

Where to find it, what it covers

To find a company’s 10-Q, go to the SEC’s  Edgar database search page, enter the company’s name or ticker symbol, and hit Enter. The results page includes most or all filings by the company; to get just quarterly reports, type “10-Q” in the Filing Type field and hit Enter.

Don’t confuse 10-Q filings with quarterly earnings report. The earnings report is essentially a press release; companies can emphasize the good news and downplay the bad. By the time the 10-Q comes out—usually after the earnings report—most reporters have moved on to something else. The 10-Q is a regular progress report that often includes the bad news that companies would rather ignore.

Core sections

For most investors and reporters, the heart of the 10-Q is the Financial Statements, a section which includes the balance sheet, the income statement and the statement of cash flow. It’s a quick snapshot of the company’s financial health. You can read more about it here. 

In the Management Discussion & Analysis section, the company’s management walks investors through the financial results: Why did revenue fall and operating expense rise? The Financial Statements tells you what; the Discussion & Analysis section tells you why.

The significance of these results often depends on what came before, and most 10-Qs offer comparisons. They may give figures for the most recent quarter and the same quarter a year earlier, which can help explain seasonal fluctuations—spiking toy sales around Christmas, for example.

Three areas worth the dive

If there have been new legal developments, most companies simply reprint the entire legal proceedings disclosure, adding a few words or sentences as required to reflect any new activity. Spotting changes sometimes means looking at sections of two filings next to one another and comparing them line by line.

Just as with legal proceedings, some companies update risk factors by simply reprinting their entire risk disclosure every quarter. It’s up to you to figure out what’s changed.

The “going concern” clause is among the strongest warnings that a company’s auditor can issue and indicates that the company could face liquidation. If you’re reporting on a company thought to be on the brink, it’s worth taking a look under a heading such as, “Basis of presentation,” within the company’s Summary of Significant Accounting Policies.

Want more business training? ASU’s new online master’s degree in business journalism gives reporters the expertise they need to cover finance and the economy. Click here to learn more. 

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