Financial Fine Print: Uncovering a Company's True Value / Edition 1

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"Always read the fine print." It’s one of life’s basic maxims, and for the individual investor, still smarting from recent market meltdowns, the saying goes double. Too many claims of miraculous earnings have been revealed as accounting mirages, with small shareholders among the biggest losers.

Prudent investors want the whole story, not just the rose-colored version of events that managers tend to portray. Yet how do you uncover it, given the huge amount of available information? The trick is simply knowing where and how to look.

Financial Fine Print is a great place to start. Written by veteran financial journalist Michelle Leder, this book lays bare the accounting tricks companies use to whitewash their numbers. Using a clear, no-nonsense style and pointing out numerous scandals and red flags, Leder sheds light on the most obscure yet most essential aspect of annual reports and SEC filings: the footnotes.

With the knowledge and techniques detailed in Financial Fine Print, you’ll learn:

  • Why one number buried deep within the pension footnote can speak volumes about whether the company’s other numbers are trustworthy
  • What sorts of insider transactions investors need to pay close attention to
  • Where companies tend to hide their debt and other obligations
  • How some companies seem to take "special" charges every quarter and how that impacts the bottom line
  • When to avoid a stock because the red flags are simply too numerous

"Too many companies would prefer that you not read the footnotes," notes former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt. "That should be incentive enough to delve into them." As investor skepticism builds and the specters of Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, and Global Crossing loom large, companies trying to prove themselves above-board have added more footnotes and documentation than ever to their reporting. This makes learning the lessons of Financial Fine Print all the more important. Because the simple fact is that if you want to own individual stocks, you need to do your homework.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A must read for any investor serious about knowing what they own." (Herb Greenberg, Columnist,, Fortune Magazine)

"It's beautifully written, combining both warmth and clarity, and as easy to read as it is to understand." (Better Investing Magazine, October 2003)

"The Financial Fine Print here is readable, useful and potentially profitable!" (Barron's Magazine, December 1, 2003)

"In my opinion "Financial Fine Print" is a must-read for any investor who wants to pick his or her own stocks." (Pittsburgh Tribune, December 21, 2003)

"With a book as indispensable as this, there's no...excuse to avoid wading into the thicket of footnotes before making financial decisions." (Better Investing Magazine, December 2003)

"Financial Fine Print: Uncovering a Company's True Value is one of the most informative books ever written for investors" (From the Foreword by Thornton "Ted" Oglove)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471433477
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 9/8/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 9.21 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Michelle Leder has been writing about personal finance and investing for the past fifteen years, including ten years spent as a business reporter and later editor for daily newspapers in New York, Florida, and Connecticut. A freelance journalist for the past five years, her articles have appeared frequently in the New York Times, as well as dozens of other publications appealing to a wide range of ages and income levels from AARP: The Magazine to Parents. Previously, she was the personal finance columnist for’s "Money" and "Career" pages. As a daily journalist she won numerous awards, including the Society of Business Editors and Writers’ prestigious Best in Business award and numerous awards in annual Associated Press contests in New York, Florida, and Connecticut. She holds a degree in economics from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and lives in Peekskill, New York, with her husband, Scott, and dog, Kumara. This is her first book. Additional information about reading financial footnotes is available at or by contacting Michelle Leder at

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Table of Contents




Chapter 1: Don’t Get Fooled Again.

Chapter 2: Reading the Fine Print Like a Pro.

Chapter 3: You Don’t Need to Be a Pro.

Chapter 4: Charge It!.

Chapter 5: Optional Illusions.

Chapter 6: All in the Family.

Chapter 7: Pensions in Wonderland.

Chapter 8: Debt by Many Other Names.

Chapter 9: Five Common Ingredients.

Chapter 10: Changing the World.

A Few Final Words.

Appendix A: A Cheat Sheet for Reading Key SEC Filings.

Appendix B: A Brief Walk through Qwest’s Fine Print.



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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2003

    A much-needed tonic for investors!

    Like many investors, I made some bad mistakes a few years ago. After reading Financial Fine Print, I not only now know why -- I also know how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. For anyone who picks their own stocks, this book is invaluable!

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