Title: Hoover's Online
Publisher: Hoover's, Inc.
Cost: Free (basic version)
Tested: February 14-16, 2003
Hoover's has been on my most-preferred list of Web sites for a long time. The brainchild of a genuine visionary, Gary Hoover, it represented the best way of converting a successful print publication — the Hoover's Handbook series, which challenged the big name corporate directories — into a digital asset sporting highly appealing and smart software. It kept growing, with more and more data from cooperating partners being added and co-branding services being developed to enhance its own information.
It has three paid versions — Lite, Pro and Pro Plus — which are beyond the budget of most everyday people with an interest in company profiles as even the Lite version now costs $50 a month. (At the time of introduction, the monthly fee was $15, but the $50 price tag is very reasonable for information professionals).
The good news is that even the free version provides quintessential information. In this review, I will illustrate the major content features by showing the information snippets that you can get about a particular company (divine, inc.) that has been in the crossfire of librarians and information specialists, and for good reason. In case you are not familiar with this issue, you can get a summary and Paula Hane's update in the February issue of Information Today on the havoc that has been wreaked.
The short summaries created by Hoover's editors are more informative than the official sleek home pages of the target companies, full of vision statements and puffery. The tongue-in-cheek tone of the introductory sentence is usually a good caricature of the company.
Very fairly, Hoover's always provides links not only to the corporate home page, but often to the company's press release pages or archives, from where it may be only a click to the collection of positive press clippings maintained by the company. Of course, these are not necessarily the best sources for forming an educated opinion about the well-being of a company as they are rarely, if ever, objective.
For this reason, it is particularly useful that Hoover's brings to you news from one of its partners, NewsEdge (which, by the way, was also on the shopping list of divine, inc. but escaped). True, the sources include PR Newswire, which is just another outlet for corporate PR talk, but you will also find substantial news from Knight-Ridder Business News, representing the opinion of third parties who have been partners or customers, as well as of business professionals, and commentators who do not mince words. The section News & Analysis is somewhat redundant as it presents most of the same news items and PR releases — these should be consolidated better.
There are also links to SEC filings which are in the public domain, services that are available for Hoover's subscribers, and reports and books that you can purchase.
The SEC filings are full of financial data, but often one cannot see the forest through the trees. The PDF format of filings (as you will find them through the links from Hoover's to its partner, 10K Wizard) are fine, but the ASCII renditions —as they appear, for example, in Dialog's Disclosure implementation of the 10-Q filings — are less effective, less current and more expensive than this free service of Hoover's.
The quarterly financials from Hoover's are easy on the eyes, and the same can be said of the annual reports. Switching from the quarterly and the annual filings requires just a click, and the whole navigation in Hoover's is impressively intuitive.
The summary of the main features of divine, inc.'s last IPO provides the minimum information about this increasingly Hollywoodish initiation process. You will not learn from it how many times divine, inc. tried and failed the IPO process. For that you must go beyond Hoover's site to find interesting articles, such as "The Little IPO that Couldn't" in Fortune magazine. (It starts with the attention-getting sentence, "Seven failed trips to the IPO altar in seven months," and goes on to provide gory details about the efforts that failed due "part to bad timing, part blunders" in September 2000.)
The best features in Hoover's are the graphs that represent how the stock has been doing on the stock exchange. The detailed quote sheet packs a lot of vital indicators in an easy-to-scan series of tables and a very telling chart of the stock's performance.
You may choose between one-day, one-month, one-year or five-year charts. You can choose the interactive charting page and see not only the performance of the specific stock's peaks and valleys, but also how the stock traded vis-?-vis the various indexes. These are laid over your target stock's performance chart to show how it has been doing in comparison with the major overall indexes. Once you try to do that manually, you will appreciate its value.
While the plummeting trend was very typical across the entire sector during the past 18 months, you can see that none of the indexes went and remained, percent-wise, as low as divine's when looking at the one-year history of NASDAQ, NYSE, Dow Jones, AMEX or the S&P 500 as overlaid on divine's chart.
You can create a similar chart showing the target company's stock performance compared to up to three other companies. Hoover's lists competitors' names, in this case EDS, SAG and IBM, but I think the main profile of these companies is less similar to that of divine than that of two venture capitalist, or incubator companies, Internet Capital group and CMGI, so I used their ticker symbols to generate the competition chart.
The charts clearly show that while the two competitors of divine, inc. have bounced back after hitting bottom in September 2002, divine keeps going further down — from the $18.75 share price in March 2002 to $0.34 per share in mid-February 2003 as I am writing this review.
Sure it would be lovely if Hoover's would link to, or even automatically launch a search in, the free Fortune archive mentioned above. The user could then find such relevant, shall I say "premonitional," commentaries. Then again, the question would arise, where to stop? Why not launch a search also in, say, Forbes, that had a couple of highly skeptical articles about the company as early as Fall 2000, which should have raised the red flag for investors and customers alike.
You get a lot of actionable information for free from Hoover's, enough for most of the Sunday investors and the undergraduate business students. It is an outstanding free source not only for ready-reference purposes, but also for making real-life decisions before you talk to your broker.