A Little Trick Could Have Helped You Avoid Cisco Fiasco

There's an easy way to compare old SEC filings with new ones.
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Nobody has come right out and asked this question, so I might as well: Is there an easy way to compare one

SEC

document with another? Knowing how to do that sure would've come in handy this morning when the news wires suggested that

Cisco's

(CSCO) - Get Report

biz was about to slow.

There is a way, at least if you're using

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

Word. Here's how to do it, using Cisco as an example. First, go to Cisco's current 10-Q filing and save the portion of text that is raising a red flag. Do that by using the cut and paste function under Edit, select the part of text you want to use (we did the entire Risk Factor section), and copy and paste it into a Word document. Then save the file (we named ours "CiscoCurrent") and close it.

Then go back to an earlier filing (we went to the 10-Q filed on June 15, 1999). This time you copy and paste the same section into another new Microsoft document (this time we called it "CiscoJune"). Save the document and close the file. There should now be two files on your hard drive, CiscoCurrent and CiscoJune.

Now you can compare the documents. Go to File and open CiscoCurrent. Next, while leaving "CiscoCurrent" open, go to Tools, click open Track Changes, then click on Compare Documents and choose "CiscoJune." This will open "CiscoJune" on top of the current "CiscoCurrent" document.

We chose settings so that a red strike-through line highlights old text; blue lines highlight new text; and regular black type shows the text common to both filings. (You can adjust your settings by clicking, in this order, Tools, Track Changes, Highlight Changes and then the Options button. The rest is pretty much self-explanatory.)

In the case of Cisco, we found that its disclosure about possible slower growth going forward is almost exactly the same thing the company said in its previous 10-Q filing. In other words, no changes in language about Cisco, and therefore, much ado about nothing.

By the way, this exercise works for entire documents as well. While we chose to focus on one section in Cisco's current filing, we could have chosen the entire filing to see what else might be new or different.

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Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. Mark Martinez assisted with the writing and reporting of this column. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, neither owns or shorts individual stocks, though both own stock in TheStreet.com. They also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. They welcome your feedback at

mailbag@thestreet.com.