The availability of financial information depends on which country you are looking at, and what types of companies. For many industrialised countries it is relatively easy and low-cost or free to obtain financials on companies of interest. If the company is publicly quoted, then you should be able to find full financial information, as this will be made available to shareholders. However it can be harder to find financial information on private companies.
In some markets there are statutory requirements to make private company financials publicly available (although the actual data submitted may vary depending on company size). Most European Union countries as well as Australia, India and a number of others have this legal requirement. Unfortunately there are many countries where private companies do not have to file publicly, making it difficult to obtain good quality financial information, even using services such as Dun & Bradstreet (http://www.dnb.com).
Within the US, the SEC web-site (http://www.sec.gov) holds public company annual and quarterly reports. However finding private company financials in the US is less simple. Sources such as Dun & Bradstreet and Equifax (http://www.equifax.com) help but often the best information will come through direct primary and secondary research.
In contrast, European Union company accounts include balance sheets, director details and, for larger companies, profit and loss, and cash-flow statements. There are national differences. Not all company legal forms need to file, and smaller companies may only need to file minimal detail.
In the UK private limited companies (Ltd.), limited liability partnerships (LLP – less common as a legal form) and public companies (plc) are required to file with the UK’s company registry – Companies House (http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk). Subscribers can download several years’ accounts and other company information, from the Companies House web-site (although public company accounts will generally also be available on the company’s own web-site). Full accounts, including a profit & loss account, a balance sheet; and auditors / directors reports are held for all companies viewed as large (over 250 employees, etc). Smaller companies are allowed to file abbreviated accounts.
In France, all limited (Sarl) and public (SA) companies need to file accounts, deposited at the Institut National de la Propriete Industrielle (INPI –http://www.inpi.fr). However the format is different to UK and US accounts with figures entered onto a standard form, in French. Another potential source for French financial data, with some free information ishttp://www.societe.com, although without French fluency it may be advisable to spend more, purchasing a translation from companies like Dun & Bradstreet or Skyminder (http://www.skyminder.com) – an excellent source for world-wide company financial information claiming to hold information on 46 million companies globally.
Most other European countries, have similarly strict filing requirements and like the UK and France obtaining information on private companies is simple. The European Business Register (http://www.ebr.org) maintains links to 27 country registries holding some financial information on European companies. Irish information, for example, can be obtained from their company register at http://www.cro.ie. The key exception is Switzerland, where, with the exception of banks, insurance companies and companies traded on the stock exchange, there is no obligation to file any financial information at all.
There are a number of general sources for (mainly public) financial information. The Companies House web-site links to a number of other company registries around the world. Bureau van Dijk (http://www.bvdinfo.com) is a commercial company that has databases holding company account information on the major global trading countries. Another good links page for financial information sources is provided by RBA Information Services (http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/finars.htm). This links to a mixture of free and fee sites globally including public company information web-sites: Corporate Information (http://www.corporateinformation.com) and Hoovers (http://www.hoovers.com).