Are Public Financial Statements Required for Private Companies?
In the United States, private companies maintain strict confidentiality regarding their financial information. Unlike public companies, privately owned businesses, including family-owned enterprises, sole proprietorships, and most small to medium-sized companies, are not obliged to disclose their financials to the public. Consequently, individuals seeking insights into their business revenue or financial statements often encounter challenges due to this non-disclosure policy. The absence of shareholder involvement eliminates any necessity or motivation for private companies to publish their financial information, setting them apart from their publicly traded counterparts, which are obligated to make periodic financial disclosures to the public.
Disclosure Obligations for Private U.S. Companies
In the United States, both private and public companies are subject to disclosure requirements, necessitating filing financial documents with the state's secretary of state upon incorporation. These documents, such as articles of incorporation or a certificate of formation, formalize the company's establishment. However, once these initial filings are complete, private companies are not obligated to share any additional information about their operations with the public.
Nevertheless, private companies are still required to file quarterly tax estimates with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and an annual tax return containing their financial information for the year. While these documents remain restricted to government use, they enable the assessment of tax liabilities for incorporated entities and aid the government in tracking market trends and economic shifts.
Despite the non-mandatory disclosure of financial statements, some large private companies' estimated revenues are available through analysts' assessments or other reports. For instance, Forbes often publishes a list of the largest private companies, offering the public insight into their size and operations. For example, the largest privately-owned company in the U.S., Cargill, is estimated to generate over $134 billion in revenue.
Disclosure Obligations for EU Companies
In the European Union, both public and private companies, including limited liability businesses, are subject to specific disclosure requirements. These requirements are harmonized across member states, as they must comply with European Union directives.
EU companies, regardless of their public or private status, must publish essential financial documents. These documents include constitutive papers, amendments, and information about authorized representatives interacting with third parties.
Furthermore, every European company with limited liability, whether public or private, must publicly disclose its balance sheet, profit-and-loss account, annual report, and auditor's opinion. Small and medium-sized businesses that meet certain balance sheets and turnover thresholds are also required to provide financial information to the public.
The disclosure requirements for private companies in the United States and the European Union differ significantly. Private companies in the U.S. maintain strict confidentiality and are not obliged to share financial information publicly. In contrast, in the EU, all companies, including private ones, must publish essential financial documents. The EU has harmonized disclosure obligations across member states through directives, ensuring transparency. The U.S. private companies benefit from enhanced confidentiality, while European companies prioritize transparency and accountability through public financial disclosures.