The Devil in (Footnoted) Details

If you really want to get to know a company in which you're invested, or in which you're thinking of parking some of your hard-earned greenbacks, don't just read its press releases. In fact, don't just read its financial statements, either. Look even deeper than that -- into the footnotes you'll find below its various required filings. That's what Michelle Leder does and reports on, at her footnoted.org website. It's also what our stock analysts do when they scour the market for market-beating investments for you.

Here are a few findings that Ms. Leder recently reported. See if they relate to any companies that interest you:

  • At health-care specialist McKesson (NYSE: MCK  ) , several executives apparently received housing subsidies of tens of thousands of dollars, despite salaries topping a million dollars. Is this a good use of company (and shareholder) money? It's hard to argue so.

  • Here's an interesting expense that many companies cover for their executives: security. Leder shook her head at Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) for spending $1.1 million last year to protect CEO Jeff Bezos, which was more than twice what Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) spent on CEO Howard Schultz and more than four times what a little company called Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) spent. Meanwhile, Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) spent "nearly $1 million in personal and residential security for Mr. Dell."

  • At restaurant company Buca (Nasdaq: BUCA  ) , former CEO Joseph Micatrotto has been slapped with a $565,000 fine by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). What did he do that was so bad? Well, a Reuters report says that, "According to the SEC, Buca reimbursed Micatrotto for, among other things: $131,000 in cash withdrawals from ATMs; $127,000 for the same airline tickets submitted for reimbursement multiple times; the entire bill for the groom's dinner at his son's wedding; and dog kenneling and remodeling of homes in California, Las Vegas, and Minneapolis." Leder added that, "The company's former CFO, Greg Gadel was part of the scheme, and, according to the release, 'received $96,630 in undisclosed compensation, including reimbursements for family vacations and visits to strip clubs' -- two activities that we're hoping were mutually exclusive."

  • Here's one item that demonstrates how meaningful footnote data can be. Leder found, in Ralph Lauren's (NYSE: RL  ) latest 10-K report, that "In fiscal 2006, less than 1% by dollar volume, of our products were produced in the United States." This should matter to investors (as well as patriots) because partly by reducing its U.S. manufacturing from 42% of clothing in 1998 to "less than 1%" in 2006, the company has been able to boost its profit margins from 48% to 54% over that period, while more than doubling its stock price. Call it good management if you'd like, but note that there isn't much more room to reduce U.S. production. The firm will have to look elsewhere to keep cutting its costs.

I hope you see how much value you can find by scouring companies' details. If you just don't think you have the time for it, consider finding trustworthy analysts to do some of this kind of work for you -- perhaps those who run our newsletters. Try a newsletter for free and see which market-beating stocks we're recommending, and why.

Amazon and Starbucks are Stock Advisor recommendations. Microsoft is an Inside Value recommendation. Dell is an Inside Value and Stock Advisor pick.

LongtimeFoolcontributorSelena Maranjianowns shares of Microsoft, Dell, and Amazon.com. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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