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Free Conference Call Info For Stock Junkies

Information wants to be free, and that includes investment research.

It was a great day for investors in October 2000, when the SEC implemented the Fair Disclosure rule.

Fair disclosure requires public companies to provide information to the public at the same time it does to securities analysts. One notable result is that anyone can now listen to companies' quarterly earnings conference calls.

But boy, those calls can be a pain.

Tom Taulli, an investor and author of "Investing in IPOs," said there definitely is valuable information to be gleaned from earnings calls. "But it is a hassle," he said. "That whole SEC disclaimer seems to take 20 minutes. There's a lot of delay … and a lot of information is repeated straight from the press release and balance sheet."

Transcripts accessed over the Internet have many advantages: You can read them at your leisure, do keyword searches and cut and paste snippets into research documents and spreadsheets.

The transcript market had been locked up by Thomson Financial, which charges investors $6,000 to $8,000 a year for its StreetEvents service that includes conference call transcripts. Now, an upstart aims to make them free to anyone with Internet access.

On Wednesday, Seeking Alpha, a network of stock market and personal finance weblogs, announced it would offer free earnings conference call transcripts for nearly 400 leading public companies scheduled to report in the coming days and weeks.

""It's all about the continued democratization of financial information," said Seeking Alpha founder David Jackson, a former technology equities research analyst. "The SEC has really pushed over the last five years to stop professional investors from having an advantage over everyone else. This is one of the last areas where the professional has still had an advantage."

Seeking Alpha plans to make the full transcripts available within six hours after the calls end, giving individual investors time to take advantage of the information before the market opens the next day.

"You want to know what the company said before the market opens in the morning," Jackson told internetnews.com.

As an example of the importance of conference call information, he pointed to Yahoo's recent earnings statement -- and subsequent drop in price.

"Yahoo didn't say anything about guidance in their release," Jackson said. "But in the conference call, they said their guidance was way below the Street, and that's what caused their stock to drop."

Jackson figures the transcripts will help establish his blog network as a must-read for stock pickers, and that will translate into more advertising and better performance for ads.

Taulli thought the transcripts would be used by what he called "stock junkies. This would be a valuable service to them," he said. And those die-hard stock pickers in turn would be a valuable audience for advertisers like E*Trade or Ameritrade that go after the high-volume retail market. Said Taulli, "They can trade a lot and be very valuable to a brokerage firm."