Introducing Aleph: everything companies tell investors, in one place

Part I: why collect corporate filings?

Can the world understand oil and mining companies as well as their investors do? We think it’s possible, and we’ve been hard at work building a tool to make it so. Our goal is: everything extractives companies tell investors, in one place.

The result is Aleph, our new search tool, which we are presenting an early version of today.

We’ve taken the documents filed by oil, gas and mining companies in several of the major jurisdictions. We’ve pulled out the full text of each document, indexed it, and made the whole lot available for anyone to search.

These documents contain every important piece of information from extractives companies. That’s not a boast, it’s a simple matter of regulation. Whenever a company releases “material” information about its activities, it is required to share it with all investors through the various stock exchange news release systems. And because of the global nature of the oil and mining industries, it turns out that an overwhelming proportion of companies and capital that goes into operations that take place in some 150 or more countries around the world are concentrated in a dozen major financial jurisdictions – the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Mumbai and a few others.

This treasure trove of information has hitherto been public, but hard to use. Suppose you’re looking at a mining project in Tanzania. To find relevant filings in the past, you would have had to trace back the corporate structure to find the ultimate owner.

Then you’d work out where they were listed — consider that a company could be operating in Tanzania, headquartered in Switzerland, and listed on stock markets in London and Johannesburg. At this point you might need to download thousands of pages of documents, and read through them all searching for snippets about that particular project.

With our database, you can now just type in the name of the project, and you’ll find the relevant parts of relevant documents. They will show up no matter whether the information has been reported in Sydney or London or Toronto, whether it’s on the cover a glossy prospectus or buried in the footnote on page 48 of a document the company management hopes nobody will read.

Give it a try. Put in the name of an area — say Cape Three Points in Ghana — and you’ll find dozens or hundreds of documents about what the industry is doing there. Search for a company, large or small, and you’ll find not only that company’s documents, but documents mentioning the company.

For some examples of what we have already done with this tool, you could look at our submission to the SEC about contract confidentiality terms, or our research into whether a 12% internal interest rate is really out of the ordinary.

You can also carry out much more sophisticated searches using this system. We’ll explain some of them in a later post. But for now please kick the tyres, try out some searches, and tell us what still needs to be improved.


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