OK, here’s what we know: Investors mostly access corporate reporting information online and they are mostly interested in financial statements.
So why would a company post its financial statements on the Web in a format that makes it next to impossible to read or use online?
Clearly they shouldn’t, yet that’s exactly what I was presented with during a recent site review of the IR website of Suez SA, a large gas and electric utility based in France.
The company has taken its financial statements, pasted them into PowerPoint… then copied images of the slides into a word processor document … then created a PDF document.
The result is that it is impossible for me to read the financials at 100% magnification in my PDF reader.
This is shown in the screenshot of the cash flow statement, which is taken at a resolution of 1024 x 768, the most common resolution on people’s computers globally according to a July 2005 report by OneStat. In other words, the image is exactly the size and resolution as I saw it, or didn’t see it, on my screen.
It’s obvious that the above view is illegible. However, zooming in does not help. Since the cash flow statement is embedded in an image in the PDF, magnifying the view simply distorts the image. This is shown below in the image of the PDF document at 150% magnification.
Although I am able to read most of the figures, it is a strain and I have to look carefully. Some figures are illegible, particularly for the most recent and most relevant period, which is reversed out of green. For example, is the “Cash flow from operating activities” line for 06/30/05 2,024 million or 2,924 million?
Now let’s say I want to enter these figures into a spreadsheet. I can’t except by manually re-keying all the information. I am prevented from copying and pasting the figures because they are embedded in an image within the PDF file.
All of this simply makes the information unusable on the Web. It has the same utility as paper, no more.
Why a company would do this is a matter of conjecture, but it is probably out of ignorance of the needs of investors. It’s either that or the company doesn’t want you to read its figures, much less subject them to scrutiny in a spreadsheet.
In an age when people like the SEC’s chairman Christopher Cox are trying to coax companies to interactive financials using XBRL, it is astonishing that practices like this persist.
More astonishing still is that many, many companies do similar things every day.