Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting Useful IR Data for Free

Occasionally, while doing research on the web for something I’m working on, I will run across something that I didn’t know about, pause, and think, “Huh, I wonder if I’m the only one who hasn’t known about this until now?” Such was the case recently when I was engaged in research about the change in ownership of a company.

There is a web site, that I have found to be very useful in tracking change in investor ownership. The improbable name comes from (I think) the fact that they attempt to follow the investments of some of the largest hedge funds, the whales, and derive some measure of wisdom from what they are doing. The site is set up to help investors track the holdings of hedge funds, but it is also very useful for tracking the change in investor ownership of companies as well. The site has compiled data from SEC filings about investor ownership in companies and put it into reasonably useful form.

As most investor relations officers in the U.S. know, the Investment Advisors Act of 1940 requires that all investment advisors with assets under management of over $100 million file a report of their holdings on a quarterly basis with the SEC. The quarterly reports are known as 13 F filings and are helpful in understanding your company’s shareholder base. There is an entire cottage industry of firms that provide this sort of information to investor relations officers. Generally, this information tends to be expensive and bundled with lots of other services. The advantage of the Whale Wisdom site is that it’s free – and you don’t even have to register to use it. In this day and age of constrained budgets, that’s a big advantage.

There are several useful things you can do on the web site. You can select a company, yours, your competition or some other company, and see who owns them. You can look at ownership changes over time, as the information on filings goes back to September 30, 2007. I find this particularly useful, as when you look at a whole year’s worth of data, trends become much clearer then if you are looking at a single quarter. Are good, solid, long-term holders trimming their positions? Are more hedge funds moving in? Are you losing growth investors and getting value investors in their place? (I’ve seen this with several companies I follow closely as they have hit the wall on organic growth. When you start seeing lots of value investors, you know the P/E ratio will be a long time recovering.) You can even download the information to an Excel spreadsheet if you want to manipulate the data further.

Often times the investors themselves won’t tell you what they’re doing – the larger funds are particularly sensitive to this – so it’s up to you to figure it out. If the type of investor you are getting doesn’t match your story, it’s time to sit down and reconsider reality.

Another nice thing the site does is allow you to type in the name of an investment firm and see their holdings. So if you’ve got a new investor you’ve never heard of before, you can go see what else they own and get a feel for their investment style. You can sort their holdings to see how important you are in their investment universe. You can even see if the firm has any 13D filings, indicating the possibility that they may be a more active (read hostile) type of shareholder.

Due to the schedule of 13F filings – 45 days following the close of each calendar quarter – the information is not up to the minute. You wouldn’t want to rely upon it if you were in the middle of a proxy contest. But if you are interested in looking at longer-term trends in your company’s stock, this site is helpful. And the price is right.

Personal Note: Investor Relations Musings is taking a vacation next week, as I join 8,000 of my closest friends biking across the great state of Iowa in the rolling party known as RAGBRAI. If you are a faithful reader, do not fear, the blog will return in two or three weeks, as soon as I’ve had a chance to recover from my vacation.

1 comment:

Rob Berick said...

John... thanks for passing along... interesting, though I must admit that I prefer data you can export to Excel more. This is pretty basic stuff on this site.

For example:

There doesn’t appear to be any information about the % of the outstanding shares. There’s a raw number for how many shares held, but that’s all.

Also, there is no information on what percentage of the portfolio this particular holding has, nor is there any information on holding style, turnover, cap group style.

Though, if someone wants just the baseline, this seems like a decent alternative. How are you using it?