The Secrets In SEC Filings

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The Secrets In SEC Filings

Footnoted.org, an investor Web site that highlights what its editor, Michelle Leder, calls “the things companies bury in their routine SEC filings,” has just passed its five-year mark. BusinessWeek’s Nanette Byrnes talked to Leder about what has changed and what hasn’t in a half-decade’s worth of documents.

Has disclosure improved since you started in 2003?
There’s a much greater level of detail, partly because of Sarbanes-Oxley and activist shareholders. Quarterly reports are now as big as 10Ks—the annual reports—used to be. 10Ks are like War and Peace. And while the biggest companies are filing more readable documents, others are being dragged kicking and screaming into plain English.

What still amazes you?
Board members who make, say, $250,000 a year for maybe five hours’ work a week. Why would they ever rock the boat?

What about perks?
The trends now are private- jet privileges and other security arrangements. And I’m still fascinated by what people ask for on the way out the door: office furniture, for instance.

Who uses your site? Have you ever gotten a call from Warren Buffett?
I haven’t heard from Warren, but hedge fund managers read the site, and sometimes they’ll tip me to particular filings. I always keep in mind that they might have a stake in seeing something brought to light.