Guide to Reading an S-1 Statement

By Colin Dodds · August 01, 2023 · 5 minute read

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Guide to Reading an S-1 Statement

An S-1 statement is a type of registration form that companies, hoping to go public, need to file with regulators in order to issue stocks on public exchanges. It’s an important document, and one that is combed through by many prospective investors prior to an IPO.

For investors who may be interested in IPO investing, learning the ins and outs of an S-1 statement is paramount.

What Is an S-1 Form?

An S-1 statement is the registration form companies must file with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue new securities. As such, it’s a necessary document for any company preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) to list on a national exchange, such as the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange.

The form serves as an introduction for companies hoping to raise money from the investing public, in which they essentially lay out their business plan. That includes explaining its current business model, its place in the current competitive landscape, as well as introducing managers and sharing a short prospectus for the stock itself. The form also includes the company’s methodology for formulating the stock price, and disclosures about how the company expects its IPO to impact the stocks of any existing public companies.

Thoroughly reading an S-1 is a great way for investors to research a company directly, rather than gathering information from third-party sources.

Recommended: What Is an IPO? Everything Investors Need to Know

💡 Quick Tip: If you’re opening a brokerage account for the first time, consider starting with an amount of money you’re prepared to lose. Investing always includes the risk of loss, and until you’ve gained some experience, it’s probably wise to start small.

Where Can You Find S-1 Filings?

The S-1 form, like all SEC forms, is publicly available. You can typically find it by going to the “investor relations” section of a company’s Web site, or by searching on the SEC’s EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval) system.

The EDGAR system is free and publicly available. It allows you to search by company, or even by form type. So, for example, you could look for all the S-1 registrations for a given period.

💡 Quick Tip: Keen to invest in an initial public offering, or IPO? Be sure to check with your brokerage about what’s required. Typically IPO stock is available only to eligible investors.

How to Read An S-1: Section Breakdown

There are several different sections of the S-1 form that contain helpful information for analyzing a stock.

The Box

The beginning of the form consists of a section often called “The Box,” which summarizes the major highlights of the document. The Box usually includes the following information about the company:

• Background information

• Industry information

• Competitive strengths

• Business strategies

• Risks

• Financial data

• Description of securities it plans to sell in its IPO

The box is where the company will try to tell its life story, its plan for the future, and why it is a worthwhile investment. It is, in some ways, a pitch to prospective investors. As such, it can be surprisingly non-technical, without some of the financial and legal jargon that can make financial statements so difficult to read.

Management’s Discussion & Analysis (MD&A)

This is where the company explains and offers context around the financial statements that appear in other sections of the S-1 registration.

This usually includes operating performance metrics, as well as how different business segments performed. This is also where management often elaborates on some of the risk factors that affect or will affect the company. Sometimes, a company will also use the MD&A as a place to share their long-term outlook.

Selected Consolidated Financial Data

This is the section where you’ll get to the numbers that matter, where the company shares a condensed statement of its income, balance sheet and cash flow.

Those statements present a quarter-by-quarter illustration of the company’s financials over the previous two years, showing its growth, capital expenditures, and other trends in the business. While those numbers may well tell a story on their own, they may be worth perusing with the commentary and background of the MD&A in mind.

Recommended: Using Fundamental Analysis to Choose Stocks

Description of Capital Stock & Underwriting

While the other sections tell you what the company is, what it does, and how it’s doing, this one gets to the main point of the S-1 – what the company is selling, namely, its stock.

This section is where investors can dig in to understand the security that will be making its debut. It includes details of shareholder rights, such as its voting and conversion rights. It also lists the investment banks that the company has hired to sell its IPO shares to large investors.

Description of Capital Stock & Underwriting even gives a preview of the IPO itself, disclosing the stock’s offering price, the number of shares the company plans to sell, and the total proceeds that the company hopes to raise in the IPO.

Recommended: How Are IPO Prices Set?

Executive Compensation

This is the section that discloses how much senior management makes in salary and other compensation, and can give investors a sense of the net worth and motivation of the leadership.

Related Party Transactions

This is where investors get a glimpse into who the company is working with. It’s a chance to connect the dots, and see who’s backing the company. The Related Party section is where a company has to disclose any transaction with a private equity firm, or a family member.

The Footnotes

Seasoned investors are also close readers of the footnotes of an S-1. This is where the most interesting little details are sometimes buried.

The Takeaway

Filing an S-1 is a key part of the IPO process. Reading an SEC S-1 filing can help investors understand what to expect about an IPO. Every company approaches their S-1 registration differently. Each company will provide different degrees of disclosure, and they will use the format of the S-1 to present that information in the way they believe will benefit them.

Reading through the document can feel like a chore, but if you’re at all interested in IPO investing, it’s a worthwhile investment of time. If you feel like you’re in over your head, though, you may want to speak with a financial professional to try and get caught up.

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Investing in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) involves substantial risk, including the risk of loss. Further, there are a variety of risk factors to consider when investing in an IPO, including but not limited to, unproven management, significant debt, and lack of operating history. For a comprehensive discussion of these risks please refer to SoFi Securities’ IPO Risk Disclosure Statement. IPOs offered through SoFi Securities are not a recommendation and investors should carefully read the offering prospectus to determine whether an offering is consistent with their investment objectives, risk tolerance, and financial situation.

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