Friday 30 September 2011

..... so how can you access SEC XBRL data?

Well you can't! without a parser. You can view it, as those nice people at the SEC, seeing there might be an issue here, now use a parser themselves to chuck it into a html page and a spreadsheet for you to download. But haven't you always been able to access it like this? - these files contain no tags so aren't they just the same as the html documents companies have been filing for over a decade? They are certainly no more useful for comparative analysis. Isn’t it all about the tags? This is like giving someone a Ferrari but neglecting to leave them the keys.

It should be stated at this point that if you can handle a parser - were talking about a slice of programming here, you can suck out all the goodness and re-purpose the data to fit your requirements, which is obviously what the big boys are doing.

The SEC were not the only ones to see a problem developing. Even the “Father” of XBRL began to wince at the complexity of it all and opined for something simpler, so he invented XBRLS – the “S” standing for simple! Although, as far as I am aware, this hasn’t got any further than a Wikipedia entry.

Not all regulators have taken the “full on” XBRL path. In the UK, the Inland Revenue & Companies House, the UK depository for legally required admissions, have chosen to use iXBRL as the medium of disclosure. iXBRL makes sense. It is just one document which can be read instantly by a browser but has the tags buried in it. It's almost as if Steve Jobs has gotten hold of XBRL and given it the Apple treatment. I will be looking at iXBRL in more detail in a future entry.

Friday 9 September 2011

Inaccessible XBRL

"An intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction" - Einstein

When I first heard about XBRL and it's amazing capabilities from the commentators at the time, I imagined a world of disclosures in which a single document would deliver the graphic brilliance of a pdf annual report combined with the analytical precision of a spreadsheet. I anticipated that the same document could be opened effortlessly in different applications depending on how you wished to view the data.

Fast forward to today....

XBRL reporting, as implemented by the SEC at the behest of XBRL International, requires you to take delivery of no less than seven separate files.

None of these files can be read by any of the tools you find on an average desktop. Not by Excel, by Word, by Explorer or any other web browser or Abobe Reader. Not by using the latest versions. Not even by jigging them around a bit. This may surprise you, seeing Microsoft were part of the original consortium. I can only assume their involvement was nominal. Perhaps it's never advisable to send a junior to a standards committee meeting, even if they plan to spend the entire afternoon discussing data labels.