Friday 5 May 2017

Will there ever be less XBRL data items?

If you read my previous post, you will know that the arrival of the SEC US-GAAP Taxonomy unleashed a veritable tsunami of data items on a concerned body of filers and a bewildered bevy of investors.

So with so many data items milling around, you would have thought that someone or something might be sent out to clean it up. Well the good news is that in late 2014, the FASB launched the Xbrl Taxonomy Simplification Initiative.

And now the not so good news...

Looks good until you realise that this represents the rate of change. In other words you don't really want the blue line exceeding the red line. But you can actually see the impact of the 2014 initiative as the red line finally jumps above the blue one through 2015/2016 reaching a peak of 681 deprecated items in 2016. I have to say I still find it staggering that there are so many items to choose from given how few items companies actually disclose in their 10-K's and Q's.

So is there any way out of this forest? Well all is not entirely lost because in March 2017 the SEC finally agreed to allow foreign filers to use the IFRS taxonomomy. This is good on two counts. One it means that all foreign filers will for the first time be required to file XBRL which starts to answer the is it only for US Companies question (more on this later!) and two it establishes a precedent that a taxonomy does not have to have 16,000 data items.

The IFRS Taxonomy which is designed to satisfy the filing requirements of every country around the world, not just one large country, has only 4,610 items. It did have a lot less (47% less to be precise back in 2011 when it was originally scheduled to be mandated) but I think they were told to bulk it up a bit if they wanted to get SEC approval (sound of head banging on table). A group was tasked with adding items by custom or practice (and approx. 1,000 Common Practice items have been added since then). During this process no specific consideration is given to how useful an item's structural relationship might be - this is sadly not the philosophy behind either the IFRS or US taxonomy. Well at least 4,500 is a lot better than 16,000.

IFRS based XBRL is likely to be adopted for mandatory filing in Europe in 2020 and one would imagine the rest of the world will fall into line after that (completely answering the US Companies only question). Most of the world now uses International Financial Reporting Standards or has standards based on them.

I should point out that I am a member of the IFRS Taxonomy Consulative Group (ITCG). But this is not why I'm a relative fan of the IFRS taxonomy. It's just got less items in.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

What do filers do with all the XBRL data items at their disposal?

This is the latest in a series of ponderings on whether the XBRL dream has come true?

In our XBRL to XL database, we have 20,000 data items that originate from the US-GAAP Taxonomies. That's a heck of alot of data items. Admittedly that includes alot of bumf that is just there for presentation or connecting stuff (abstract items) or axis (column headings) and items that have subsequently been deprecated. But compare that to S&P Compustat's 500 odd or the 1600 data items we use for our standardisation routines.

I guess the FASB were worried about companies using extension tags, although perhaps there are more direct routes of limiting i.e. prohibiting extensions.

Of course the more there are, the greater the risk of mistakes. Choosing the wrong item over another in the same section is not easy to detect. Usual validation routines won't pick it up. And none of this stuff is audited. Ultimately it is up to the company, or whoever they've outsourced their XBRL tagging to, to pick it up.

The kinda advice stressed by Ernst & Young on the release of new taxonomies is typical and not surprising.

"As they move to a new taxonomy, companies should review their practices for selecting XBRL tags and thoroughly search the tags in the new taxonomy".

So what value do we as users get out of all this wonderful detail?

Well lets have a look at disclosure levels for our probably over the top standard data set of 1632 items (lets refer to this set as the standidZd 1600. So a couple of weeks ago I did a chop of our SEC XBRL to XL database (powers XBRL sheet) to check on item usage. I thought it would be interesting to look at usage for our reference set of industrial companies we established when looking at filing histories (seeing our standiZd 1600 was designed explicitly for non financial companies). Keeping everything consistent with all our other data sampling in this series, I only included 10-K's but all the 10-K's they've ever filed in XBRL. I should stress that this is before we've applied our standardisation routines.

So what is this table telling us? That 263 of our standiZd 1600 have NEVER been used by any of the top US industrial companies. And a whopping 65% of what we regard as the most comparable individual data items have been used by 5% or less. So if we were trying to compare any one of these 1000 odd items, we would have at best only 11 other companies (and roughly on average probably only six) to compare them with. Lets hope a couple of them happen to be in the same sector! And we can probably forget about creating any meaningful aggregates for these items.

What happens if we widen it right out to the total population of US-GAAP tags and the total population of companies. Not surprisingly it gets uglier. 10,000 of US-GAAP tags appear in 5% or less of the total number of 10-K filings made to date (approx. 50,000). And roughly only 1,000 items appear in more than 5% of these filings.

This isn't a perfect piece of analysis as some items have come and some items have gone (but that has been happening by and large around the margins of the taxonomy)

So it's probably not too unreasonable to conclude 20,000 data items is drastic overkill for comparative analysis and that our 1600 standiZd data items IS over the top! We will certainly take a close look at those 263 items to see if we need to rename! this set downwards.

So what use does this disparate tagging have? Well it does allow us to easily find the rare occasions where particular tags have been used but because use is so rare, it probably has no real advantage over them just being tagged using extensions. A simple text search, although not as neat would be just as effective, if not more so as it would pick up all (the right or wrong) occasions when an extension has been used instead.

All this prompts the question - will there ever be less data items?

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Building Xbrl sheets from scratch (using our query engine)

Who are we to tell you how to analyse a company? That's why our Xbrl example spreadsheets are merely that - examples. The tech behind it is simple, been around for years (ie. works!) and is easy to deploy. The examples provide a starting point and hint at what's possible. You build on them to create a custom sheet that meets your specific analytical needs or you can start from scratch.

So how do I build a sheet from scratch? Well watch this short video.

And these videos will also give you a flavour of how to customise existing queries as they demonstrate the example sheets in use.

You can add bells and whistles like set them to automatically update when you open a sheet or provide extra layers of automation by incorporating them in a VBA macro to fully harness the power of Excel.

Friday 3 March 2017

How to screen for the very latest filings in Excel

Now EDGAR is very good at showing you all the latest filings. But I wanted to take it a step further in my analysis of XBRL filings for the 2017 10-K reporting season. I also wanted to do it in Excel. By the way, this is all part of the Has the dream come true? series of posts and videos which you can follow starting from here.

If you have read my previous posts, you will know I have set up a control group of companies so we can see for real in this reporting season what we can and can't do with XBRL. Now I've needed to be able to monitor those filers, just as if they were my portfolio of potential investments. So we've added a watchlist feature to Xbrl sheet. Technologically, it's just a variation on the existing queries you can run in Xbrl sheet. It uses the same query file but you set different parameters to do some very powerful screening of the latest flings at the SEC.

Great thing about Excel data queries is that you can set them up to run whenever you want automatically, so when you open your workbook or indeed at regular intervals, say every hour.

You won't always know which companies your wish to watch so we've covered that by adding the ability to screen by filing date. Say for example, show my every company that filed yesterday (whisper it but you can actually search down to the latest minute so you could set it to show you all those that filed in the last hour for example. We update our database from the SEC in real time so as soon as it's available on EDGAR, it's available in Xbrl sheet). Not only that, you can filter by industry to build a peer group of real time filings. You can specify a particular SIC code or a wider range to pick a bigger industry grouping or search by filer (i.e. find filers in the same industry as your chosen target).

Anyway this video shows you how to do all that. And once you've identified a filing, you bring down all it's XBRL tagged data using the same mechanism in Xbrl sheet.

And there's an example sheet to play with here.

Friday 10 February 2017

Has the dream come true? - show me how I can see 10 years of XBRL data

This is the latest installment in what seems to be turning out to be a series - catch the start here - has the dream come true?

After my last post, I thought I really ought to show you all this data. Provide the evidence as it were. We've just added a few new bits and pieces to Xbrl Sheet so I also I thought it would be a good way to bring you upto date with what we've being doing over at XBRL to XL.

So it looks like this.

And you can see how I created this in next to no time (and how you can do the same) here.

And if you just can't wait and want to get hold of the data in a hurry for Neflix (or any company), you can download the Xbrl Sheet from here. Just pick up a token from the website and fire away.

Friday 3 February 2017

Has the dream come true - Is there enough XBRL?

If you missed the introduction, then you can go back to this post.

I think I'm gonna end up tackling the "enough" question alot. Today as we stand at the beginning of the 2017 10-K reporting season, lets for now just narrow it down to the question of history.

Throughout this examination of the validity of XBRL today, I want to keep it as real world as possible, so a lot of my work in the coming weeks is gonna be working with a subset of companies from that most popular of general US indices - the S&P500. So I'm gonna draw from approx. 250* constituents to see if we can get closer to an answer.

*No I haven't just halved the index! I didn't want to work with financial companies as that just makes my life harder and I wanted to just look at companies that were going to lodge 10-K's in the current reporting window. Conveniently that left me with 256.

So before any reporting for 2017 began, we had (Source: XBRL to XL Database):

Which means not surprisingly, given how long XBRL has been a requirement, pretty much the entire population already has a five year history (not 100% as not all constituents were listed when XBRL filing started). That's a good start but even more excitingly, nearly 60% of this index population is suddenly gonna have 10 years of data! As the majority of their data points will now stretch back 10 years for the first time by the end of this reporting cycle. Companies are required to disclose 3 years of income and cash flow data (in each filing) so 8 filings will take you back 10 years for period items (9 years for balance sheet items).

In fact 4 companies (chevron corp, fluor corp, newmont mining corp, united technologies corp) had already filed 10'K's 8 times so this year will have a complete 10 year history.

10 years has always been regarded by analysts as the kinda historical period you can properly get your teeth into. The theory being that it equates roughly with an entire macro-economic cycle - from boom to bust.

Tuesday 31 January 2017

And so has the dream come true?

Seeing I thought I had some stuff to say and I hadn't bloggged for far too long, I thought I'd look back at my early posts. When I started back in 2011, 2,000 companies had made their first fledgling filings. Now 11,000 plus companies have made over 170,000 filings (Source: XBRL to XL database). Now that we are swimming in a sea of XBRL, are we living in a world where analysis is easy, accurate and free (well cheap at least!)?

When XBRL started, there was a tremendous euphoria that we were on the cusp of analytical nirvana. The first mandatory filing season quickly burst that bubble. XBRL it appeared (or certainly the FASB/SEC implementation) wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Those problems are well documented but all the same I thought it would be worth listing them here to see what if anything has changed. Has nirvana sailed back into sight or is it still a case of manana?

So why couldn't I use XBRL?

There wasn't enough of it. If I'd only got a few 10-K and Q filings, how could I do any meaningful historical analysis?

There was too much of it! Over 16,000 tags, but I'm only interested in two or three hundred data points at the most!

It was complicated. A lot of the interesting numbers that were being structured for the first time were held in weird structures - multi-dimensioned hypercubes. And what the hell is a tuple?

I couldn't access it. Yes I could go to the SEC website and download it for free but then what? It certainly wasn't playing nice with Excel which was somewhat of a surprise for structured data.

This structured data didn't have any structure. Why could I get a tagged figure for Revenues for Google but not for Microsoft. How does that work? And what was I meant to do with extensions which seemed to allow Filers to bypass completely any semblance of standardisation that might exist.

So apart from too little data, too much data, obscure complicated structures, poor accessibility, evanescent structures, extensions, what else was wrong?

...Oh did I mention the errors? Filings in the early years were plagued with errors. The top three spots on the podium of errors were taken in reverse order by missing required values (like err, earnings per share), negative values (due to yet another layer of complication) and right at the top, invalid axis combinations?? Exactly! (Filers were tying themselves up in tuples trying to dimension this stuff). The most oft cited error - the mis-used extension didn't even get a look in. Pushed way off the rostrum by more basic booby traps.

So given what I've just said, the next question might seem a little rhetorical - could I trust the source? There ought to have been a simple answer to this question. Something along the lines of yes. I was no longer having to deal with a middle man to get my structured data (a vendor), it was being signed off by the company and of course audited. Except it wasn't - the audited accounts were a separate filing, the html 10-K. The xml XBRL was in a seperate file which wasn't audited and for which the Directors had no liability.

I've mentioned the missing data values but I haven't mentioned the missing data. Not everything was being xbrl'd. It only applied to the financial statements and accompanying notes. Not for example the MD & A (Management Discussion and Analysis) into which companies often like to lob a lot of interesting and important values. And yes the 10-K got the treatment but not the preceding earnings announcement.

So apart from too little data, too much data, obscure complicated structures, poor accessibility, evanescent structures, extensions, errors, unaccountability, missing tranches of data, was there anything else? was only for US companies and so in an increasingly globalised world in which the conventional orthodoxy of free trade prevailed and your competitor could be on the other side of the world then even if you managed to straighten out your data you might not have any companies to compare all this comparative data with. So is it possible that Donald Trump could be the saviour of XBRL?

Realising that Donald Trump is not a satisfactory answer to my question (or indeed any question for that matter), I will address each of these issues in turn in my next few posts to see whether this dream is still giving analysts nightmares. For now I've run out of blog.