When BestCalls launched in 1999, the site was a real novelty to investors. Most individuals didn't even know even know that publicly traded companies regularly broadcast their news to analysts and fund managers -- before releasing that same news to the general public. But why should they know? Companies systematically and decisively shut out individual investors from these telephone conference calls. So much for the myth that the Internet had truly leveled the playing field for individual investors. These telephone conference calls were one of Wall Street's dirty little secrets, and evidence of the edge that institutions and professionals still held over individuals trying to make it in the stock market.
Since BestCalls arrived, however, the tide has turned. Public companies now routinely invite the general public to listen in on these calls, often using RealAudio or Windows MediaPlayer software tuned in to web sites like BestCalls, Vcall, StreetEvents, and StreetFusion. These sites provide links to their web broadcasts or phone numbers to call so you can listen in on the action.
Wall Street's change of heart wasn't exactly motivated by corporate America's desire to be fair, however. The Securities and Exchange Commission, under former commissioner Arthur Levitt, was a true advocate for the individual investor, and pushed companies to put an end to preferential treatment. Levitt went so far as to call the practice of leaking information to analysts "a stain on our markets."
Even if you choose not to listen in to conference calls as they happen, you can still find these sites useful. They each publish calendars of the dates of expected company earnings announcements and provide archived versions of company conference calls (useful if you missed the live event).
Finally, remember to check the investor relations area of a company's own web site to discover their schedule of upcoming announcements. Then you can truly heed the call of the Street.
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