Read the Footnotes
It’s very important to read the footnotes. The footnotes to financial statements are packed with information. Here are some of the highlights:
- Significant accounting policies and practices – Companies are required to disclose the accounting policies that are most important to the portrayal of the company’s financial condition and results. These often require management’s most difficult, subjective or complex judgments.
- Income taxes – The footnotes provide detailed information about the company’s current and deferred income taxes. The information is broken down by level – federal, state, local and/or foreign, and the main items that affect the company’s effective tax rate are described.
- Pension plans and other retirement programs – The footnotes discuss the company’s pension plans and other retirement or post-employment benefit programs. The notes contain specific information about the assets and costs of these programs, and indicate whether and by how much the plans are over- or under-funded.
- Stock options – The notes also contain information about stock options granted to officers and employees, including the method of accounting for stock-based compensation and the effect of the method on reported results.
Read the MD&A
You can find a narrative explanation of a company’s financial performance in a section of the quarterly or annual report entitled, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.” MD&A is management’s opportunity to provide investors with its view of the financial performance and condition of the company. It’s management’s opportunity to tell investors what the financial statements show and do not show, as well as important trends and risks that have shaped the past or are reasonably likely to shape the company’s future.
The SEC’s rules governing MD&A require disclosure about trends, events or uncertainties known to management that would have a material impact on reported financial information. The purpose of MD&A is to provide investors with information that the company’s management believes to be necessary to an understanding of its financial condition, changes in financial condition and results of operations. It is intended to help investors to see the company through the eyes of management. It is also intended to provide context for the financial statements and information about the company’s earnings and cash flows.