Becoming a Data Collection Pro

Hello again!

As I sit at my desk surrounded by stacks of papers containing the disclosures I collected from my first round of data collection along with my notes from the analysis of the second round, I cannot believe that tomorrow will be my last meeting of the summer with professor Smith and Irving. I’ll leave a lot of what I have learned thus far in my project, which I am happy to report drove me to pursue an independent study for this upcoming semester, until my final wrap up post. However, I did want to share with you all some thoughts about this last leg of my work.

One of the first things that I was surprised to realize during this stage of the project is how familiar I have become with excel. Since each of the databases that I have worked in have been constructed using this program, I have come to love (and hate) it. Working on my Mac this summer, I have had to teach myself a lot of the excel shortcuts that helped me progress more quickly in coding my data into the spreadsheets. One of my biggest accomplishments (and unless you have done a lot of work in excel, this will probably seem like no big deal) was discovering how to insert a new line into the spreadsheet in between two already existing lines without having to use a menu option. I had wasted a lot of time during the first phase of my project inserting lines and structuring the database without the assistance of shortcuts.

Another thing I have discovered in this particular phase of my project is how difficult it is to distinguish if something is actually happening off of a company’s balance sheet. Some companies choose to disclose their off balance sheet arrangements in a specific section of the Management Discussion and Analysis section of the Annual Report that is clearly defined as “Off Balance Sheet Arrangements.” Other companies chose to include this information in the “Contractual Obligations” section. Finally, other companies choose to include the information in another section of the Annual Report entirely. Navigating through and becoming familiar with the different inclinations of whoever prepares the filings for each company was a time consuming, and often frustrating, task.

I’ve already started to notice a lot of trends in how and what companies are reporting about their Off Balance Sheet Arrangements. Guarantees and Retained Interests seem to be the most common arrangements for companies to utilize. As such, most of the trends that I have picked up on have dealt with them. For example, securitizations (a retained interest OBSA) are often utilized for the purpose of reducing some cost that the company is exposed to. Once again, I will leave this discussion of trends a bit open ended until after my closing meeting when I will report my final thoughts on this project.

I have already started to compile a list of these final thoughts (which will inevitably expand after tomorrow’s meeting) to share with you.

Until then,

–Joe