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Company Information: Public vs Private

Resources for Company Information

Public vs Private Companies

What is a public company?  

Public companies are those that sell stock to the general public, and trade that stock on a stock exchange or over-the-counter market.  They are required by law to file specific forms with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on a regular basis. Public companies have a unique ticker symbol that makes them easier to locate. 

 

What is a private company?

A private company does not sell stock to the general public, and the stock is not traded on an exchange.  In private firms, the stockholders are usually the principals in the company (e.g. founders, members of their families, key employees, etc.).

 

How does a company's status (public or private) affect the research I do?

You will usually find much more information on a public company versus a private company.  Detailed company information, including description of business, financial data, organizational structure, management discussion, and key personnel data, are included in SEC filings such as the 10-K. The 10-K is the official annual report filed with the SEC.

Since private companies do not have the same obligation to report to the SEC, it is harder to locate information on them and the information you will find is probably self-reported.

 

Why are databases important for company research?

A lot of information, particularly on private companies, is not free and available on search engines such as Google. That is why the Library pays for access to proprietary databases that provide restricted and/or expensive corporate information. Databases save a researcher time by packaging information from various sources in one location. Many databases provide for the creation of custom reports and allow users to export data in spreadsheets which is also time saving.

 

Where can I find information on public companies?

You can find information on public companies by using the databases listed under the Directories & Profiles tab in this guide or by searching filings at the SEC website. See also the Articles tab to search for newspaper and magazine stories.

 

Where can I find information on private companies?

You can find information on some private companies through the databases listed under the Directories & Profiles tab in this guide (but not the Value Line or Standard & Poor's databases), and also at the company's website. The Library of Congress offers a Private Company Research guide. Also see the Articles tab to search for newspaper and magazine stories.