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What is a SEC Filing?

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  • Written By: John Lister
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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An SEC filing is a type of formal document submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). SEC rules require companies and individuals to submit such documents regularly. Common types of SEC filing include annual and quarterly reports from publicly traded companies.

The SEC is the federal agency responsible for regulating the securities industry in the United States and enforcing the relevant federal laws. It has the power to bring its own civil actions for violations, as well as working alongside law enforcement officials to bring civil prosecutions. One of its key roles is to make sure companies publish enough data to allow investors and potential investors to make informed decisions. This information's availability is part of the basis by which the government does not guarantee investments in the securities markets, and thus investing in shares is riskier than, for example, saving in a bank account.

The two best known types of SEC filing are the 10-Q and 10-K, which are quarterly and annual reports respectively, filed by all companies whose stock is publicly traded. Companies can opt to send an annual report to investors that contains some or all of the information in the 10-K, plus additional information of the company's choosing. This does not alter the obligation to file the 10-K in the required format.

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Much of the data in a 10-K covers the financial performance throughout the year. Companies are also required to give details of the highest and lowest market prices of the stock throughout the year. Often the most interesting 10-K information comes in the sections detailing ongoing legal action and potential risks that could affect the company's future performance. In many cases, these sections will reveal industry events and agreements that had not previously been made public knowledge.

The 10-Q contains the same type of information as the 10-K but is not required to be as detailed. The main difference is that the financial statements do not have to be audited in a 10-Q. A company only files three 10-Q documents a year, with the data for the final quarter of the financial year incorporated into the 10-K.

Since 1996, virtually every SEC filing is added to EDGAR, which is a database known formally as the Electronic Data-Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system. The introduction of EDGAR was designed to vastly reduce the costs of investors accessing filings data, both for the investor and for the SEC.

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