INTERNET COLUMN 1

ACCOUNT - The journal of the CTI-Accounting, Finance and Management

Volume 7 No. 1

Spring 1995

Written by - Andy Lymer, University of Birmingham (Home page)

(you can contact the author by emailing - a.m.lymer@bham.ac.uk)


C O N T E N T S

Introduction :

As announced in the Autumn 1994 issue of ACCOUNT, this is to become a regular column in the journal. I would like to propose that it will cover all matters relating to JANET/the Internet from the perspective of an academic user looking to make use of the global network to support their teaching and research in the areas of accounting, finance and management. A fairly wide proposal I know, but this is an area I feel is poorly handled by the community at present. It is hoped that this column will go some way to redress this.

As editor of this column I would very much welcome ideas, requests, comments and references in order to maximise the value of the information content to its readers. Of particular value will be references to materials (pages, resources etc) that you have found interesting and think will be of interest to the wider community. Please e-mail (or write to !) me with their details.

The column will, at least initially, take a number of different formats. Some (like the rest of this one) will contain reviews of resources or tools. Others will be collections of shorter commentaries or details of teaching uses etc.

The paper on the Internet in the previous issue of ACCOUNT (Lymer 1994) gave a broad overview of the Internet's structure, gave some details of tools that exist for use on the network and gave a short resource guide for business related topic areas. The rest of this column analyses one of the resources mentioned in the paper in more detail - the EDGAR project - which I believe could have a huge impact on the advancing of on-line publishing of company reports and accounting information.

EDGAR (The Electronic Data Gathering, Archiving and Retrieval Project):

Ginsberg, Kambil and Eisner (1994) describe the EDGAR project as 'a large heterogeneous financial data archive... composed of all the forms filed electronically to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by (US) domestic publicly traded corporations' ie all the annual and quarterly reports of SEC registered companies and a host of supporting documentation.

The project offers free access to electronic versions of many US corporate filings over the Internet that have been made since its start in January 1994. This access was initially in the form of data files available for copying via anonymous ftp (see description of this methods in Lymer 1994 if you do not have WWW access) but World-Wide Web (WWW) accessible formats were made available from March 1994. This has the benefit of being much easier to manipulate as the WWW is a far more 'user-friendly' environment in which to search for information.

The database itself is maintained by a company called Internet Multicasting Services (IMS) based in Washington D.C. and the project that is supporting the development of the database is running at New York University . The project aims too look at the implications of providing public access to large databases of information over a public network and is using the SEC filings as a case study.

Ginsberg et al (1994) report that 3196 publicly traded company's filed electronically to the SEC (not all SEC registered companies are have to file electronically at present). A company called Mead Data Corporation has exclusive data dissemination rights to these filings until the end of 1997 but they have agreed to provide this information to the project team at NYU (on a slightly delayed schedule) for them to provide free access over the network. NYU in turn pass the information to IMS who operate the routine handling of most access queries on behalf of the team.

The database has already seen significant world wide use. IMS report that in March 1994 alone (the month the WWW service commenced) 14 gigabytes of information (14 million pages) were sent out from their server (Levin 1994).

The initial project developing the database is due to come to an end in December 1995 and whether the service will continue after that point is the subject of a fair amount of debate at present. However, by this point the database is expected to have grown to 20 GB. This means it will be one of the largest experimental hypermedia databases. It will be a shame if continued support for this information is not found from some source or another.

At present EDGAR contains most of the ASCII SEC forms filed electronically by companies (with the notable exception of officer ('insider') purchases and sales which is considered too commercially sensitive ) but does not contain any non-ASCII information that is filed, for example, the charts produced by companies and filed with their reports.

One key drawback of the system at is operates at present lies with the formats the information has to be kept in. HTML code (that used to create WWW documents) does not support columns at present so the structuring of the information can be poor. This, of course, does not make the task of extracting the information for further analysis any easier.

Ginsberg et al (1994) report significant educational use of the database over the last twelve months. The suggest that average usage is between 32 and 38% from educational sources and this percentage has been steadily increasing each month in 1994 as details of the database became available and were spread.

Searching EDGAR :

Indices are generated after each day's submissions of forms have been added to the database. These indices are the best place to start if you want to access the information in EDGAR directly for yourself. They enable the user of the database to search for filings by company name (the key index) and by form type submitted (the SEC maintains over 100 possible submission forms types!). The key index links company name to the database reference of that company's 1994 filings. The searches are actually performed using a full-text WAIS index of the header information contained in each filing (ie the header of each form).

Another possible way of accessing EDGAR's data is to go through a third party who provides their own user interface to the database. There are a large number of reference points directly to the resource itself from general Web pages and search tools, but a number of independent resource providers have experimented with different 'front-end' possibilities to help the user access the database. For example, Security APL , who provide interfaces to a large number of electronic financial sources, list the SEC filings in date order and so provide a more convenient way of following company filings on a regular basis.


Conclusion :

The possibilities for academic use of this database are significant. At present only current year (ie 1994) company filings are listed so only questions of the data relating to current year financial reports are possible. There are no reported plans to make historical records available. This puts significant limits on the research potential of the database. However, this problem will be eroded over time as second and future year filings are added (provided the database is supported in the future). The database would however, be a particularly useful resource to those teaching International/US company reporting or those wishing to compare UK and US versions of a particular company's reports and accounts.


Access to EDGAR :

WWW -

FTP:

Email:


Footnote :

EDGAR is limited to ASCII files of data on company performance. A few companies have gone a step further in making fuller copies of their reports and accounts available on-line. A couple of examples worth looking at are Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com/) and Sun Microsystems (http://www.sun.com/smi/InvestorRelations/index.html)


References :

Ginsberg,M, Kambil,A, Eisner, A (1994) 'The EDGAR Project: A Case Study in Disseminating Financial Data on the Internet', http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/IT94/Proceedings/Fin/ginsberg/edgar.html

Levin,J (1994) 'Internet's Electronic Link to Managing Money', Business Section - The Washington Post, April 10.

Lymer, A (1994) 'The Internet as a Resource for Business Research', ACCOUNT, Autumn, p18- 27.

Note: Grateful to Alan Sangster and Barry Spaul for their useful comments on the EDGAR Project

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This page was created and is maintained by Andy Lymer on behalf of CTI-AFM, University of East Anglia, Norwich.