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Magazines > Online > Sep/Oct 2004
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Online Magazine
Vol. 28 No. 5 — Sep/Oct 2004
FEATURE
Free Australian and New Zealand Business Information Resources: A Report from the Melbourne Business Information Group
By Nicole Sackers, Michelle Nutting, and Sinead Williams

M ost readers of ONLINE can't casually drop by a meeting of Melbourne, Australia's Business Information Group to learn about new developments in Web business resources. Our group comprises some 30 research librarians, all of whom are engaged in business research in a variety of corporate and government sectors. We meet on a regular basis for networking purposes, often with guest speakers. Alternatively, we hold roundtable discussions where we share experiences and concerns of our profession.

Some time ago we made a commitment to diary a dedicated session where we would pool our knowledge of free Web-based business resources. One of the group, Sinead Williams, had previously published an article on Australian and New Zealand Business Resources in ONLINE's sister publication EContent ("Companies Down Under: Australian and New Zealand Company Information," v. 22, n. 6, December 1999, pp. 33­36), and we saw our roundtable discussion as a timely update of this article albeit with a focus on free resources. The following is a record of our meeting.

We split our discussion into what we considered to be logical "chunks"—moving from media resources, through company information, and wrapping up with industry profiles.

REGIONAL MEDIA

Search and retrieve abstracts from Australian Fairfax newspapers (John Fairfax Holdings Limited is Australasia's largest newspaper publishing group) with Newsstore [http://newsstore.f2.com.au]. While this requires registration, searching is free and there is free access to ASX (Australian Stock Exchange) company announcements that are over 20 minutes old. Whereas the ASX Web site also offers company announcements, search functionality is limited to company code and company name. Newsstore offers deeper search functionality, including finding specific types of company documents across all listed companies. Full-text PDF format is available from July 1, 2003, and edited text format from the early to mid-1990s.

Prices for full-text articles range from A$1.65 to A$2.20. The newspapers included are Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Sun Herald, Sunday Age, Newcastle Herald, Illawarra Mercury, and Australian Financial Review. Fairfax business magazine titles include BRW, Shares, and Personal Investor. Newsstore also provides regional information from sources such as Asia Pulse, PPI Pakistan, and ANTARA National News.

Google News Australia [http://news.google.com.au] includes the same 4,500 global news resources as the U.S. version of Google News, with the same 30-day archive. There is good Australian coverage—sources include the Australian Financial Review, The Australian, Fairfax, and News Limited newspapers. Google News New Zealand [http://news.google.co.nz] sources include TVNZ, the New Zealand Herald, and the Otago Daily Times. All Google News sites remain in beta testing and include a free alert function.

NewsDirectory [www.ecola.com or www.newsdirectory.com] is an international portal with good Australian and New Zealand coverage. It includes direct links to numerous local newspapers, everything from the Blue Mountains Gazette to the Warrnambool Standard! Some of these newspaper sites provide free access to an archive of articles. For example, The New Zealand Herald site contains full text back to December 1998.

Individual publishers' Web sites are also useful, at least for the current day's news, at no charge. For Australia, look at Fairfax [www.f2.com.au] and News Ltd. [www.new.com.au]. For New Zealand, Fairfax has a separate site [www.fairfaxnz.co.nz].

In addition to major daily city, local, and regional papers, some industry-based sites provide good coverage of issues affecting their sector and an archive of their own press releases. For example, MineWeb [www.minewebaustralia.com] has good coverage of the mining industry, with free, up-to-the-minute online access to Australian media, as well as that from other countries, such as South Africa, where mining plays a major role in the economy.

ANNUAL REPORTS

Equities Info [www.equitiesinfo.com] directly links to annual reports for over 1,000 companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. Search is by company name or industry sector.

Some university libraries also have excellent in-house lists of online annual report collections. For example, Flinders University
[www.lib.flinders.edu.au/resources/sub/socsci/annualreports.html] links to individual company Web sites and Swinburne University [www.swin.edu.au/lib/infogate/company.htm] shows the general business subscription databases available to students (ProQuest's ABI/INFORM, Thomson's Business & Industry, EBSCOhost's Business Source Premier, and Factiva) and links to Web sites for business, company, and financial information.

A very comprehensive set of links to mining and exploration company profiles can be found at Reflections' Web site [www.reflections.com.au/MiningandExploration/
Companies/Profiles.html]
. Although the Web site acts primarily as an advertisement for Reflections' Web design business, it maintains active links for the mining and exploration industry.

DIRECTORIES

A number of directory-based sources provide useful links into information on companies, industry, and the environment in which they operate.

Business Entry Point [www.business.gov.au] contains extensive links to government and business organizations and an entry point to search a subset of the official Australian Business Register. Search ABRPublic for details on ABN (Australian Business Number), company status (registered, deregistered), legal and trading names, and entity types. It also links into Australian Securities & Investment Commission's National Names Index. The Australian Government Entry Point [www.gov.au] has links to Australian federal, state, territory, and local government Web pages.

And if you get desperate, there is always Infobel—the online phone book [www.infobel.com/teldir]! It contains the Australian White and Yellow pages and is a useful for verifying a company's contact details or to create a list of companies by business type.

Use the Confederation of Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce (CACCI) [www.cacci.org.au] to drill down to regional and local business contacts via national chamber of commerce sites. On Kompass [www.kompass.com], you can search by company or trade name, products and services, executive name, keyword, and region. While most of the information is fee-based, you can still generate a free contact list of companies using the previously mentioned search criteria.

COMPANY RESEARCH

The Web site for ASX, the Australian Stock Exchange [www.asx.com.au], is free to search and lists both current and delisted companies and name changes. Shares and closing prices are available, as are recent company announcements, which can be downloaded in full-text PDF (from July 1, 2003), floats (forthcoming as well as recent), with links to PDFs of prospectuses. Note however, that Newsstore, as mentioned above, has additional search functionality for company announcements.

The ASX Fact File is produced annually. It contains market statistics, including market capitalization, turnover, indices, top 50 domestic equity securities by market capitalization, and overseas companies listed on the ASX.

The ASIC (Australian Securities & Investment Commission) [www.asic.gov.au] lists all documents lodged since 1990 on the National Names Index. One good feature is that this site provides the "number of pages" you will get in a document order—a good gauge for judging how likely financials are to be included! Given that private companies' annual returns here in Australia can often be "flimsy" at best, it can be disappointing to download (and pay for) an annual return document only to find that it contains a mere three or four pages with only addresses and directors' names and dates of birth, and no financial information whatsoever! It is therefore useful to be able to see in advance, before paying or ordering anything, how many pages are being offered!

Also available on this site are "offer lists" with summaries (from March 13, 2000), summaries of prosecutions of companies and directors, the Banned & Disqualified Register, and free company alerts where you can monitor up to 25 companies on a single profile (five "profiles" are allowed per logon).

New Zealand Companies' Web site [www.companies.govt.nz] is very similar in nature to the ASX and ASIC sites, but unfortunately you have to pay for much of it! There is also very little information, even when you do pay! However, the Announcements feature is very good. Once you have found the company name and opened the profile, click on the "Documents" tab. All announcement documents are free, including the Certificate of Incorporation, addresses, and names of up to two directors. Note that New Zealand reporting and regulatory requirements differ from Australia. For more information, go to
http://www.rbnz.govt.nz.

New Zealand Stock Exchange [www.nzx.com] has the full text of some company announcements older than 20 minutes. Past announcements are available from approximately August 2001. Other information includes security details, price data, indices, trade summaries, and statistics.

At the ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission)—Mergers & Acquisitions Register (s.50) [www.accc.gov.au/content], click on "Public Registers" on the left-hand column, then at the next screen, scroll down to Mergers & Acquisitions. Click and it will take you to an excellent searchable register, which includes all M&A activity reported to the ACCC—a great starting point for M&A searches. Data is available back to 1996, but 1998 is not searchable yet.

Delisted Companies [www.delisted.com.au] covers companies that are delisted, suspended, in administration, in receivership, and in liquidation. Details include date of delisting, reason for delisting, name change, date of name change, and some news on progress for some companies after Dec. 31, 1989.

COMPANY INTELLIGENCE AND HISTORICAL SHARE PRICES

Despite the complete lack of clues in its unlikely name, Bourse Investor [www.bourseinvestor.com] is "dinky di Aussie!" Translated, that means the Web site is pure Australian. Share prices go back to the early 1990s, and you can manipulate historical price data with date ranges. There are also summaries of current floats and a free e-newsletter to alert you when floats are imminent, as well as a 2-month archive. Free registration is required.

Yahoo! Finance Australia [http://au.finance.yahoo.com] contains historical share prices and dividends back to the mid-1980s (open, high, low, and closing). Data can be manipulated according to your requirements and you can set up a free "portfolio" to check favorite stocks as well as free company alerts. There are news feeds from Reuters, Dow Jones, and New York wires.

Australian Investor: The Investment Information Service [www.australiainvestor.com.au] gives an A-Z listing of publicly listed companies and a "static" chart of share price movements. Technical charts and historical share prices go back 10 years, but note that these are static charts. What is useful, however, is that you can compare a company with up to three of its competitors. Registration is required. Also available are price/volume indicators and moving averages, full-text announcements (with an additional "show announcement history" feature), recent news, market wraps, and float information (3-month archive). The "Trading Tools" link demonstrates the available functionality, which includes company profiles—"snapshots" and 8 years of financials.

While in essence a global resource, CorporateInformation [www.corporateinformation.com] does cover over 1,300 Australian companies and offers links to free and fee Australian resources. You do have to register, but some information is available free of charge.

FREE VERSUS FEE

We understand that in the U.S., our counterparts are concerned about the constant flux of information resources from free to fee-based—a case in point being Hoover's, which no longer offers free capsules. This has also been our experience here in Australia: There is a definite trend of information providers moving their data from free access platforms to subscription-only.

In addition to feeling the pinch of losing free access to information on Hoover's and corporateinformation.com, we have also experienced the loss of free access to Connect4's listing of company Web sites, BRW (Business Review Weekly's) [www.brw.com.au] 4-week archive of articles, B&T Weekly's [www.bandt.com.au] archive of articles (B&T is an Australian institution—its weekly publication is something of a "bible" as an information resource for the marketing, advertising, and publishing industries), and Huntleys' company profiles and financials [www.huntleys.com.au]. BRW's "Top" Lists (some of which are still "free to air") used to have a downloadable functionality in which you could manipulate the lists into a spreadsheet and rearrange the rankings by market cap or turnover or whatever took your fancy! Alas, this is no longer possible—at least not for free!

However, some compensatory moves from fee to free, much to our delight and surprise, have been the online resources for industry information available from reputable government agency sites, such as Standards Australia [www.standardsaustralia.com], ABARE (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics) [www.abareconomics.com], and ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) [www.abs.gov.au].

STATISTICS

Three government sites excel when it comes to Australian statistics. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) [www.rba.gov.au] collects data on cash rates, exchange rates, Commonwealth securities, commodity prices, and interest rates. Publications and research include statements on monetary policy, discussion papers, annual reports, conferences, and the Reserve Bank Bulletin.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics [www.abs.gov.au] is the official national statistical collecting agency of Australia. Access a range of free statistics from social, economic, and industry perspectives.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) [www.apra.gov.au] regulates banks, insurance companies, superannuation funds, credit unions, building societies, and friendly societies. The main source of banking statistics collated by APRA is available in the quarterly publication, APRA Insight. Up to March 2002 these statistics were published in Australian Banking Statistics. Some archived data is available online for free, including asset and liability data for individual Authorised Deposit Taking Institutions from July 1998 to February 2002.

The Property Council of Australia Web site [www.propertyoz.com.au] is one example of how an industry-related body provides statistical information affecting its industry. CyberStats is a free statistical resource providing up-to-date property and economic data. It provided over 100 economic indicators. Statistical topics include construction and building, economic, property, social, tax, and tourism. Examples include:

• Construction and Building—building approvals, building fit out costs

• Economic—average weekly earnings, CPI (consumer price index)

• Property—industrial property, office rents, office yields

• Social—demographics, population growth

• Tax—Australian Taxation Office, stamp duty, land tax

• Tourism—hotel supply and demand, hotel valuation index

Access a range of free statistics about the economy, industry, environment, and people and society from Statistics New Zealand [www.stats.govt.nz]. There is also excellent census data, with free downloadable Excel files, a useful "Table Finder," where you can combine and manipulate a range of data, for example, "personal income" + "age," to locate tables and download them into spreadsheets.

Use New Zealand's central bank Web site, Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) [www.rbnz.govt.nz], to find information on NZ monetary policy, statistics such as economic indicators and interest rates, currency, the NZ banking system and settlement system, cross-border financial regulation, and foreign reserves.

New Zealand Government Entry Point [www.govt.nz] provides links to government and council services and is also a useful source of general country facts.

The ANZ (Australian & New Zealand Banking Corporation hosts the ANZ Economic Publications Web site [www.anz.com/nz/tools/economic.asp] that provides access to full-text reports on various aspects of the economy and industry briefs, as well as a weekly Market Focus report, monthly CPI reports, and the Business New Zealand Performance of Manufacturing Index, also monthly.

INDUSTRY INFORMATION

The Australian Productivity Commission [www.pc.gov.au] has some good free industry reports since 1990, from the automotive industry to private health insurance, as do ABARE and ABS, both mentioned above. There is also some free information available on IBISWorld [www.ibisworld.com.au]. This includes brief company details, such as entity type, number of personnel, number of subsidiaries and industry descriptions outlining major players, industry definition, and main activities.

MarketNewZealand.com [www.marketnewzealand.com] provides access to New Zealand news and industry reports. You can also register to receive free assistance with trade inquiries and search and browse the extensive exporter database.

This was where we ended our roundtable discussion. This report may not be the equivalent of streaming video—or even streaming audio—but we hope it gives a flavor of the types of free Australian and New Zealand business information resources that we here in Australia actually use on a regular basis.

 


Nicole Sackers [nicole.sackers@ato.gov.au] is manager, business research, Michelle Nutting [michelle.nutting@ato.gov.au] is senior research librarian, and Sinead Williams [sinead.williams@ato.gov.au] is assistant director, research & client liaison, information services, Australian Taxation Office.

Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to marydee@xmission.com


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