In seeking out ratios for companies I would be reluctant to use free web-based services. The University of Manchester Library pays subscriptions to allow current students and staff to use numerous specialised financial databases. These are trusted sources, used for academic research and by commercial businesses.
The following databases are easy to use for obtaining ratio data.
Once a company has been searched for (see search box highlighted) and overview screen displayed, Key Ratios are shown. There is also a link for ‘All Ratios’.
It is preferable to select ‘Annual’ as Report Type – this selection option is revealed from the icon on the right of the screen. Ratios are grouped into a number of categories: Valuation Measures, Valuation, Enterprise Value, Credit Statistics, Liquidity Leverage, Profitability, Efficiency, Management Effectiveness, Dividend, Growth Rates and Stock Performance.
Search for a company and display the Report.
It is then a simple matter of scrolling down to the section on Ratios. These are grouped into a number of categories: Profitability, Operational, Structure and Per Employee.
On the command line (top left of the screen) type the company identifier (quote/ticker symbol: TSCO LN = Tesco PLC on the London stock exchange), category of information via yellow market sector key (F8/Equity – company related) and function code (FA for Financial Analysis), followed by the green Enter/GO key. Click on the ‘ratios’ tab.
TSCO LN F8/Equity FA ‘Ratios’ is further divided (e.g. Profitability displayed).
Hover over a ratio and right click, select ‘Definition’ for further detail (e.g. ‘Return on Common Equity’).
A different grouping of Ratios can be obtained from the Security Description [DES] function and the ‘Ratios’ tab.
It is also possible to obtain ratio details from Datastream, but is a little more involved than the databases noted above.
A basic breakdown of a few ratios are displayed from the ‘Overview of Company Performance’ analysis option for the Equities (Company) Data Category.
More specific searches are possible for multiple Series (companies) and Datatypes (various ratios, for example) from the Excel Add-In version of Datastream.
For students at the University of Manchester we run regular Datastream training courses and other support material is available in the Database Suite.
Comparing a company to its industry is not always straightforward. There are many classification systems to group similar companies together. There are UK/US SIC [Standard Industry Classification] codes and an additional, separate one for North America [NAIC – North American Industry Classification] – just to muddy the waters! Oh, and there is another, International industry system: Global Industry Classification [GIC] developed by MSCI (Morgan Stanley Capital International and Standard & Poor’s).
Thomson ONE database shows a SIC of 5411 [Food Stores – Grocery Stores] for Tesco PLC, which is the US version (not specified) and also by economy Sector [Food & Drug Retailers] and Sub-sector [Food Retailers & Wholesalers] – this is categorised according to the ICB (Industry Classification Benchmark).
Thomson ONE allows companies to be searched for according to Industry codes: Screening & Analysis – Companies – Company Screener
Use the search window or expand the menu options:
Where a company competes against a select/limited group of competitors (which may be considered a Market – such as the UK Grocery Market), many databases provide quick quantitative comparisons.
For example, in the Fame database (UK & Ireland public/private companies), Tesco PLC has the SIC code 4711 [UK SIC (2007), Very Large Companies – retail sales in non-specialised stores with food, beverages or tobacco predominating]. Selecting the ‘Peer Report’ (Table) function allows comparison with other similar companies.
This describes the comparison as: ‘Closest 10 companies according to Turnover, for the last available year amongst the standard peer group (UK SIC 4711, Very Large Companies) – retail sales in non-specialised stores with food, beverages or tobacco predominating’. Strangely, this list doesn’t include Sainsbury or Asda, which are clearly competitors – so caution is advised when using such functions.
Company Views – Fundamentals – Comparables
This gives a list of companies in the same Industry – but again a note of caution, as this list doesn’t include Lidl or Aldi, which are competitors. Note also the tabs for additional data.
Bloomberg has the RV (Relative Valuation) function which, according to the help screen definition allows you to perform a relative valuation analysis on a single company (e.g. Tesco PLC) by comparing (benchmarking) against comparable companies in the same Market/Industry.
On the command line, type: TSCO LN F8/Equity RV Enter/GO
Depending on the area, there may also be content in the following databases:
Passport, Frost & Sullivan, IHS Connect and Freedonia.
Market Research reports can provide a valuable comparison for a company in relation to an Industry/Market. For example, breaking down by market share: Tesco PLC is often quoted as having around one third of the UK Grocery Market. Such market research is available from a number of sources, such as:
Mintel (Reports – UK coverage)
‘All’ seems to shows a familiar market breakdown – Tesco PLC 1st, but recently has been losing market share to discounters, Aldi and Lidl, which has been accentuated since this research was conducted (December 2013).
The way that research is framed is also important in considering whether you are comparing on a like-with-like basis, or close to this. Fragmentation in the market research conducted (for example, market share at physical stores only or physical stores and Internet sales combined, when producing market share values for different companies) makes this more difficult – hence the benefit of locating a report which closely matches the area of research you are interested in.
In this Market Research report, Lidl and Aldi are included in the comparison, where they weren’t in the above comparisons.
KeyNote (Reports – UK coverage).
Thomson Research (Reports [Company/Industry] – International coverage) – this is particularly good for in-depth reports, at the Company and Industry level. These reports can include SWOT analysis and other factors influencing a company’s current and future performance.
Meeting student requirements.
There is often a mismatch between what a student requires and what is available in terms of resources (business databases). In these cases, providing a solution is not always easy or apparent.
In one example, where a student asked for data on the ‘pump, bearings and gears’ industry – how companies were performing in relation to the market as a whole in the UK. I had to explain that this area didn’t represent an ‘Industry’ and therefore there would be little if any market research available. It also didn’t represent a ‘Sector’ or ‘Sub-Sector’ of the economy.
This meant that there would be limited content from database sources, which tend to organise data by individual companies, industry or sector of the economy. In this case a compromise (in terms of the analysis conducted) had to be arrived at in consultation with the student.
In summary, getting the best approach boils down to what data is available from database sources and the possibility of a student having to modify the terms of their research. This highlights a key consideration, which is often ignored – how easy is it to obtain the data that I need for my research? See additional post on this area (Research Feasibility, dated 10th February 2015, also in this Business Research Plus blog.).
The databases noted above are available to use by current students and staff of the University of Manchester.
Further Information at:
NAIC (North American Industry Classification). (Used in Thomson ONE database).
Industry Classification Benchmark [ICB]. (Used in Thomson ONE database).
Global Industry Classification [GIC] (MSCI: Morgan Stanley Capital International / Standard & Poor’s). (Used in Thomson ONE database).
UK SIC. (Used in Fame database).
US SIC. (Used in Thomson ONE database).
An updated post is available, posted 16/10/2015.
Through the many posts by Mark Greenwood in this Business Research Plus blog, useful solutions to technical problems have been provided – how to gather data from a specialised financial database, for a dissertation, for example. Another way to improve the technical knowledge of students (and librarians) in such endeavours is to undertake Certification in these financial databases.
I have successfully undertaken certification for a number of financial databases over the last three years, which has helped me in my role in the Business Data Service. This gave me the authority to be able to stand in front of students in a training session, having gone through the process myself and therefore being in a position to answer any questions relating to certification.
This article sets out my experiences and thoughts on database certification, comparing and contrasting some of those available.
The certification process involves becoming familiar with content relating to a database. This is represented in a series of videos on which the examination(s) are based. Upon successful completion of the examination(s), a certificate is emailed to the candidate, which can then be added to their curriculum vitae.
A candidate is required to be a current student at the university offering the database, to be covered by the usage licence and therefore entitled to use the product and undertake certification, for which there is no charge.
I will consider Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters certification schemes.
Although the certification process for Bloomberg Professional is commonly known as ‘Bloomberg Certification’, the official title is ‘Bloomberg Essentials Training Program’, which appears on the certificate (when the examinations have been successfully completed).
Videos are viewed and examinations taken at a Bloomberg terminal.
Having to be at a terminal to view the videos and take examinations limits flexibility. This is because it restricts students to the opening hours of the buildings in which the Bloomberg terminals are located.
Enter the BESS [Bloomberg Essentials Online Training Program] function code on the command line and press the Enter/GO key to get the screen below:
This displays the four core and four market sector videos, which range in length from about 18 to 35 minutes, for total content time of around 3 ½ hours. They assume no prior knowledge and develop a student to a moderate level of competence, covering background, searching, content available and numerous functions. The format is screen shots from Bloomberg, with a text commentary on the right side plus an audio commentary, listened to through headphones (socket at rear of the keyboard) or speakers in the keyboard.
There are a huge number of functions (around 15,000) even after a large reduction following a recent review – this is reflected in the comment from Tom Secunda (Bloomberg co-founder): “A function that’s brilliant and never used is worth zero”. 
Questions are based on the content within the videos. There are no sample examination questions. A candidate would need to obtain a Bloomberg Personal Login and use this to log in to Bloomberg prior to taking the examinations. This means the system knows who is taking an examination and their name would appear on the certificate, when examinations have successfully been completed.
Obtaining a personal login is a quick process, taking a couple of minutes – which I normally guide students through after a training session or at a later date by arrangement. Examinations are started from the BESS screen.
It takes a minimum of two examinations (Core [30 questions, multiple choice] plus one Market Sector, e.g. Equity Essentials [17 questions, multiple choice]) to qualify for a certificate. As noted in the screen shot above, the pass mark is 75% or better and an examination can be re-taken once only. Students could of course choose to take more than one market sector examination, for which they would receive further certificates and demonstrate a wider grasp of the Bloomberg Professional service.
There is no time limit, but an examination needs to be completed in a single session – it isn’t possible to get part way through and return the next day, as terminals are closed down when a library closes.
Again, this option is on the BESS page, under the cryptic description of ‘Acknowledgment of Completion’, or to put it more simply: send me my certificate. This is emailed as an image file attachment which can then be printed and/or saved.
Certification is currently provided in three areas: Datastream, Thomson ONE.com Investment Banking, and Eikon. Having undertaken the first two, I will deal with these, which follow the same format.
Videos are web-based: at Thomson Reuters Product Certification and it is a quick process to enter name and email address (university) each time when using a public PC, or details can be ‘remembered’ for seamless progression if using a private PC.
Having web access adds greatly to flexibility when preparing for examinations as viewing could be off-campus, in a hall of residence or private house, for example, and therefore not limited to library opening hours.
Thomson Reuters takes a different approach to the videos, in terms of timing, with narrower topic areas and hence shorter times for each video. Format: screen shots with dialogue boxes and an audio commentary – plug in headphones to the computer base unit.
Datastream: Around 130 videos are available, totalling about 6 hours of content. These typically last between one and seven minutes – much shorter than those for Bloomberg (18 – 35 minutes). This means that if a student is looking for guidance on a particular area (e.g. exporting a chart as an image file), it is possible to go directly to a video for this area, rather than have to go through a much longer video. As with Bloomberg, they assume no prior knowledge.
Thomson ONE.com Investment Banking: Around 40 videos, between one and six minutes in length, for total content time of about 1 ¾ hours.
Click on the required option on the certification page (e.g. Datastream) and follow the prompts to view the videos.
Questions are based on the content in the videos. Three sample questions are available from the certification page (see above) for each product.
There is a single examination for Datastream and Thomson ONE.com Investment Banking. Format is 30 questions, multiple choice, with a pass mark of 80% or more. An examination can be re-taken once only. So a slightly higher mark is needed than with Bloomberg (75%), but with Bloomberg, a minimum of two examinations is required to get a certificate.
Time limit: 60 minutes. This certainly focusses the mind and makes undertaking the examination more stressful, compared to Bloomberg, which has no time limit.
As with the training videos, the examination can be taken from any location with web access. Click on the product option (e.g. Datastream) and a further option then becomes visible on the left hand menu: Step 2: ‘Ready to take the certification ?’. Once selected, this sends an email with a link within to begin the examination.
This is emailed as an image file immediately after successfully completing the examination, which can be printed and/or saved.
A 30-minute session covering the steps involved in certification for the database in question.
Evolution of training
Adapting to the reaction of students in the first training sessions, I added an introductory section in the middle, which covers searching and the type of information/data available within each database. This allows students to get an appreciation of the ‘look and feel’ of the product, rather than just concentrating on the key steps in certification. This definitely improved the training and resulted in a more rounded course and better student attention.
Responding to this is a bit of an art … what other commitments and events can reduce demand or result in students who have booked a place not attending? Reading week is to be avoided – most undergraduate students have gone home. Other factors include jobs fairs which are promoted at short notice and end of year examinations (April/May), when demand for certification training is markedly reduced.
In the training sessions I suggest a couple of potential approaches to preparing for certification examinations. First, spend a few hours each week building familiarity gradually. And, secondly, waiting until directly after the end of year examinations and putting in a concentrated effort to complete certification – seven days, for example.
Certification benefits – students
Employability: an additional qualification which can help to set students apart from other candidates – who may otherwise have very similar qualifications.
Database overview: certification gives an overview of searching techniques for a database, meaning they can make more effective use of the content available from a database. For example, completing Datastream certification would mean an MSc student on a finance-related course would be fully prepared to search for quantitative data in support of their dissertation.
Flexible Working: students can progress at their own pace and choose when to take the examination(s).
Certification benefits – library staff
Builds technical knowledge: to improve capabilities when answering student research enquiries.
I did this by effectively summarising the certification content. This involved compiling comprehensive notes on areas I felt I needed to memorise (from the videos in Bloomberg) and developing a certification manual (for Datastream and Thomson ONE.com Investment Banking). This gave me familiarity with the content and when completed, a quick reference source to consult. Once the examination(s) were completed, I developed a training course to guide students in the certification process, thus passing on my expertise.
Flexible working: I could progress at my own pace, taking into account other work commitments. Hence, the preparation for certification could extend over many months. This is reflected in my certification completion dates: Bloomberg (November 2011), Datastream (February 2013) and Thomson ONE.com Investment Banking (January 2014).
Database promotion: a means to promote the use of Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters databases to students, emphasising the benefits to be had.
The provision of the certification schemes by Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters is a great benefit and represents a worthwhile investment of time for both students and library staff.
By providing certification training to guide students and promote success in the certification process, the library is helping achieve a university goal – to improve the employability of students.
In setting the level of difficulty, Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters have struck the right balance – sufficiently rigorous to be seen as having value by employers, but not so difficult that only a few can pass the examinations.
The certification training sessions provided within the library have been successful, with continuing demand over a number of years.
 Edgecliffe-Johnson, A. Bloomberg service in $100m revamp. Financial Times. 27 February 2012, p.1. [Back]
Your interest in finance and financial markets could start with your university course, your career aspirations, intellectual curiosity, or a combination of all three. Whatever the reason, take one of the specialist financial databases for a quick test drive and get a glimpse of the world from the perspective of a finance professional.
Bloomberg Professional is a great database for getting the professional experience – you just have to think of a large, quoted company, find it and start to browse around. Bloomberg is only available on specific PCs so you have to go to the library.
Once you have Bloomberg running, type the company name in the command line, select the auto-matched series, and choose DES (description) for your command. The screenshot below shows the result for Samsung.
If you are unsure where to go on your test drive there are various Bloomberg posts that could give you inspiration.
Thomson ONE.com from Thomson Reuters is not quite as eye-catching as Bloomberg but it does have a web interface, so you can use it from any PC where you have Internet Explorer as your browser and can run the VPN software to access university resources.
Use the search box to find a large, quoted company by name and you get a standard overview report. Explore the different sections of the report and then the different tabs. The following screenshot is for Amazon.
There are various Thomson ONE.com posts to give you tips. In addition, you can also use one of our library guides to help get started.
Capital IQ, like Thomson ONE.com, has a web interface – you need VPN and a special username and password. Getting started is the same – search for a large company by name and start with the default overview report. With Capital IQ the large list of options to explore appears as a list of headings on the left.
This screenshot is for Wal-Mart Stores (who own the Asda in the UK).
When exploring any of these databases it is best to start with a large company as more information will be available, in general large, quoted US companies as the most studied by professionals are the best.
When looking for quantitative data on mergers and acquisition, the various databases available each offer a different set of search filters. Most of these are very similar, such as annoucement date or country of target company, but the type or attributes of the deal vary the most.
The attached table compares Thomson ONE.com, Capital IQ and Bloomberg Professional, and lists the deal type or attributes for each. The options are sorted into alphabetical order and spaced out accordingly to make the comparisons easier.
Why do this? Perhaps you are looking to filter on a specific type of deal that can only be identified in one of these database tools.
Go to: Screening & Analysis > Deals & League Tables > M&A > Advanced Search, then consider the two filters:
- Deal Info > Deal Type (Code)
- Deal Info > Acquisition Techniques (Code)
Go to: Screening > Transactions, then consider the two filters:
- General Transaction Details > Types
- M&A Details > Features
Go to: MA <GO>, then consider the two filters:
- Deal Criteria > Deal Types
- Deal Type > Deal Attributes
Finally, download M&A Compare Filters [Excel format] to find out in advance if the specific kind of deal that you are looking for can be filtered out in the database of your choice.
Any research that requires gathering company, financial or economic data will involve choosing the appropriate databases. Three key aspects to this decision are :-
- data content – which databases have the data required by the research
- access – how is the data accessed (e.g. web interface, specialist PC in library, …)
- learning curve – how easy is it to learn
Of these the first “data content” is the most specific to a research topic and the obvious place to start.
Thomson ONE.com (or T1.com), Thomson Reuters replacement product for Thomson One Banker, covers a wide range of financial information for listed (public) companies and provides a good example of many common data content issues that researchers need to consider.
Company Accounts (Company Financials)
A significant limitation of Thomson ONE.com from a research perspective is that it does not cover inactive (dead) companies. Research often deals with a significant number of companies and only selecting companies that are still active (listed) leads to survivorship bias. Alternatives giving fuller coverage include Datastream, also from Thomson Reuters, and Compustat for US companies.
Thomson ONE.com also has less historical coverage than more research oriented databases such as Datastream and Compustat.
Financial Markets, Prices, Returns
Thomson ONE.com does provide price and index data. As with company accounts there is the limitation to active companies only. In addition, the web interface is not a good choice if you need to download a significant amount of data, e.g. daily price data for a large list of companies. The database with the best research reputation and longest historical coverage is CRSP, available through WRDS, but this is US data only. Similarly LSPD, also available through WRDS, has the longest historical coverage for UK prices and returns. For global coverage there is Datastream.
Analysts’ reports (brokers’ reports) is an area where Thomson ONE.com has the best data available (to University of Manchester subscribers). See Analysts’ reports on Thomson ONE.com (posted January 2014) for more detail.
The web interface is designed for searching by company name and downloading a small number of these text reports. There is no quick method for downloading many reports for multiple companies.
These are documents that a company files with its regulator. In the US they are often referred to by the name of the SEC form – 10-K for annual reports, 10-Q for quarterly reports, …
The downloading issues for analysts’ reports apply to filings too. Indeed with the over 100 pages and lots of images the annual reports for larger companies can be 10-20 MB and therefore not quick to download. For recent company annual reports you may find it quickest to use google, or another search engine, and download direct from each company’s website.
PI Navigator, from Perfect Information, is a specialist database for companies regulatory filings of companies with flexible search options.
Deals – Mergers and Acquisitions, New Issues, IPOs
SDC Platinum is a well known database for company deals data, and it is also well regarded by academic researchers. SDC Platinum is now part of the Thomson Reuters portfolio and you can access the data through Thomson ONE.com.
Use the Screening & Analysis tab to access the advanced deals search screen. There are four broad classifications: mergers and acquisitions, equity (inital issues/IPOs and secondary issues), bonds, and syndicated loans.
When researching deals it is important to remember that the information can be sparse – for many variables there is no recorded value. When a public company takes over a private company it is not obliged to reveal all the financial details of the deal. (A deal between private companies may have only the minimum of information disclosed.)
Some researchers prefer using the older SDC Platinum database, especially when downloading large amounts of data, even though this requires coming to the library to use of of the PCs with SDC installed.
Thomson ONE.com is a popular choice when researching an individual company, or a small group of companies. When researching a large number of companies, over the last 5/10/20 years, a different more research oriented database (or databases) can be better. However, the choice of which other databases does depend on the detail of the research data required.
A merger or acquisition is a combination of two companies where one corporation is completely absorbed by another corporation. The lesser company loses its identity and becomes part of the larger corporation, which retains its identity and assumes all the rights, privileges, and liabilities of the merged company.
The research of mergers and acquisitions forms a key part of the MBA programme and a greater understanding of the issues involved is also of interest to the wider research community. The proposed merger between pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and AstraZeneca is much reported in the business news from a variety of perspectives: jobs, innovation, research and development, takeover policy, and tax policy.
Bloomberg Professional is great for researching mergers involving public (quoted) companies. The MA (Merger and Acquisition) function gives an overview of the M&A market and the ability to drill down to details of specific deals. In addition Bloomberg is excellent for researching companies and business news.
You will see that Bloomberg uses colour coding to highlight whether a deal is proposed, pending, completed or withdrawn. You can use the actions option to refine your deal list to select a specific country or industry, or select an individual deal to access the details.
Thomson ONE.com also offers a range of M&A information:
- Market Views – Deal Activity – M&A Market Overview gives a summary of the number and value of deals
- Screening & Analysis – Deals & League Tables – M&A – gives various options for searching the deals module
- Selecting a company and then Company Views – Deals gives the recent deals for a specific company
For qualitative reports on mergers and acquisitions, both proposed and completed, investigate the analyst reports from Thomson ONE.com or the older Thomson Research. With leading contributors such as Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley, Thomson ONE.com provides analysis reports for over 60,000 companies. It affords authoritative insights into sales, forecasts and strategy evaluation.
Market research databases, for example Keynote/Mintel/Passport GMID, provide information on business market trends that influence companies M&A strategies. These databases allow for the study of market size, segmentation, trends, forecasts and competitor and buying behaviour. They focus on the market analysis of UK and International Industrial/Consumer markets.
Business news is often an essential part of M&A research. If you are not using Bloomberg then Factiva (from Dow Jones) is a key source. Covering over 10,000 international, national and regional newspapers, news feeds and trade publications, Factiva provides access to the latest targeted company and sector developments. Searches can be made via company name, publication, industry, region or type of news.
For quantitative data to study trends and features of historic mergers and acquisitions you will want to get your candidate deal list from Bloomberg Professional MA function search, or a search in Thomson ONE.com screening and analysis, or a search in SDC Platinum. SDC Platinum is an older product from Thomson Reuters but still widely used because of its reputation among commercial and academic customers.