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Annual Report & 10-K
While the term "annual report" is often used to describe either a Form 10-K or an Annual Report to Shareholders (or ARS), there is a difference.
A public company's 10-K (or 20-F for certain foreign companies) is an excellent source of information on its business, strategies, risks, financials, and more. It presents the company's point of view on its current condition and future direction. Other SEC filings reveal important information as well. ** Private companies or subsidiaries are not required to release detailed financials, and therefore don't need to file 10-K (annual report), 10-Q (quarterly report), etc.
How to read a 10-K
Sections of the 10-K, differences between 10-K and Annual Report to Shareholders.
Recent and some historical annual reports are usually available on a company's website, usually in a section called Investors or Investor Relations. Or, google company name investor (e.g., Best Buy investor) to get to the Investor section.
Historical Annual Reports
10-Ks are available online on the SEC site (see "Recent Annual Reports" on the left) back to 1994. 10-Ks (or information from the 10-Ks) before that may be available from the following sources:
Annual Reports at Academic Business Libraries
A merged list of print corporate Annual Reports at Harvard, MIT, Purdue, Stanford, etc.. Most are for onsite users only; Purdue is the only university that allows borrowing via Interlibrary Loan.
Corporate Reports Online
Annual reports in PDF format from U.S. companies, between 1800 and 1955. Maintained by Lippincott Library at the University of Pennsylvania.
Includes full text sources for regional, national, and international newspapers as well as business, legal, and medical publications, and also, government documents.
Moody's Manual of...
A series of print annual company profiles between 1950's and 2000 (coverage varies). The profile is not exactly an annual report, but contains key information such as company description and financials.