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Using and Understanding SEC EDGAR XBRL Filings

This blog post summarizes information relating to using the XBRL information provided by the SEC EDGAR web site. The target audience for this post is a business user who has a little bit of programming skills who wants to understand how to get at the XBRL information on the EDGAR system and to understand issues related to obtaining and using the XBRL information.

There are two approaches to using the EDGAR XBRL information.  The first is manual.  To me this is generally uninteresting, you can use the old EDGAR system to use the information manually.  However, using the EDGAR information manually provides insight into how to use it in an automated manner.  The second approach is a more automatedapproach using a computer application.  I will use Excel as an application to look at the EDGAR XBRL data.

Manual Approach

The manual approach of getting the XBRL filings to the SEC is to use one of two methods.

  1. Use the SEC Search page:  The SEC Search page allows you to put in some information about an organization which must file with the SEC and then you can go to that information.  For example, if you go to that search page, and type into the Company Name box "International Business Machines", and then press the Find Companies button, you would get this result. On that page you will see a blue button which says "Interactive Data".  If you press that, you get this page which is a rendering of the XBRL created by the SEC. What you MAY not know is that you can browse the files for any filing.  For example, if you go to the actual documents (the gray button next to be blue interactive data button), you get this page. That page lists a bunch of documents provided for that filing.  Now, if you take the HTML page out of the URL, you will get this listing. This gives you a listing of all the files which are used to drive the SEC interface into the XBRL and other files.  For example, take a look at this XML file.  That file drives that Interactive Data viewer provided by the SEC.  Look at the file names within that XML file and you see the detailed reports in an XML format.  Those reports drive the HTML and Excel versions of the company filings provided by the SEC. For example, this is the XML file with infomation about Acquistions for IBM.
  2. List of XBRL Filings: Now, you can use the RSS feed(see below) to get a list of the last 100 filings made to the SEC in XBRL.  Regretfully, the SEC does not provide a list of ALL the SEC XBRL Filings.  But, a software vendor, XBRL Cloud has provided a list of ALL THE SEC XBRL FILINGS.  You can see that list of all XBRL filings to the SEC here. From that list, you can navigate to any of the pages pointed out above in "1" above.  What I did myself is create a little short cut to the files that I wanted to deal with.  Here is that list, I call it a "Mashup Console".  I basically used the XBRL Cloud information to grab filing information, I used some other software I had laying around from Coyote Reporting which we used on the US GAAP Taxonomy creation project, I modified those, and I created some things like this rendering of the presentation linkbase of EVERY SEC FILER who submits XBRL. This is helpful because the SEC provides no way to take a look at the XBRL taxonomies provided for SEC XBRL filers.  But you CAN get those from my mashup console. There is more available, but I will get to that under the automated processing portion of this discussion as that is what the other information is for.

Here are some other useful tools created to access XBRL related information from the SEC web site created using the files mentioned above and some automated processing mentioned below:


Automated Approach

To use the EDGAR information with any sort of software application, the first thing you need to do is find the XBRL SEC filings.  There are two ways to do this:  the SEC can tell you about the XBRL filings or you can go find them yourself.  Finding these yourself is generally above the skill level of business users trying to get at the information; this is what programmers are for.

The SEC tells you about the SEC filings by providing an RSS feed. This lists the RSS feeds provided by the SEC at this point in time. The first RSS feed on the list is really the only list of XBRL documents filed but it really is not that useful as it only provides the latest 100 filings.  Rumor has it that the SEC will provide a way to get at all the XBRL filings, but at this point that complete list does not exist.

But, a software vendor, XBRL Cloud, has gone through the effort of figuring out how to get all of the SEC filings and has made that listing publicly available.  This is an HTML version of all XBRL filingsmade to the SEC. That HTML listing of XBRL filings to the SEC is interesting, but what is more interesting is an XML version of that listing. The reason this is more interesting is that you can write a very simple Excel macro to grab the list of all XBRL filings to the SEC.

So, really, there is only one practical way to perform automated processing of XBRL filings, from a list of such filings.  Having to find them yourself would be really hard to do.  You CAN do this.  The SEC provides a number of interfaces into the information such as this which exists for every SEC filing(XBRL or otherwise). You can see the CIK number (a unique ID for every filer) and the Asseccention Number (a unique ID for every filing).  These two numbers can be used to get at every filing for every filer.

Another way to get at all this information is to use FTP. This is a link the the SEC FTP interface to EDGAR filings.  Here is information for FTP users provided by the SEC.

To get at the EDGAR information using a simple software application, see this blog entry. The code provided in the application (this is just Excel VBA) can provide a lot of insight as to HOW to get at the SEC data using automated approaches.  The limitation of this tool is that it does not use an XBRL processor to access the information.  An XBRL processor would make a lot of things much simpler, but you really need to be a programmer to use most XBRL processors these days.

Issues and observations

The following are issues and observations made as part of looking at the existing SEC filings.


Posted on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 08:04AM by Registered CommenterCharlie in | CommentsPost a Comment

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