Cover of 1866 HBC Annual Report
Each May 2nd Hudson's Bay Company celebrates its anniversary and begins another year in its long history. While the date of its fiscal year-end has changed over the centuries - May 31, September 30 and January 31 have all been used at one time or another - from 1670-2005 one tradition remained constant: the publication of the Annual Report to shareholders.
HBC owes its existence to a group of London business people who believed there was profit to be made by trading for furs from the New World. While it is unclear as to when the first annual report was "published", by law the financial activities of the company had to be disclosed to the shareholders on an annual basis. This was done at an Annual General Court, or meeting, held in November. By 1821 the Annual Report was published in a format that it would keep for the next several decades. A succinct report presented the "Profit and Loss Account" of the company and its balance sheet. Another, separate document, offered a detailed, and sometimes lengthy, narrative of the company's activities during the previous year.
General Court page from the 1930 HBC Annual Report
The year 1924 signalled the symbolic end of the Annual Report as generations of shareholders had seen it when the Company's financial year end was changed from March 31st to January 31st. The Governor's narrative recap of the past year was largely modified in 1930. The format became more of a formal address with the topics of interest to shareholders all specifically addressed.
The harshness of the Second World War years can be seen through the Annual Reports: they become so succinct that they can be printed on only a few pages. The end of the war and the resulting climate of hope and optimism may have triggered experimentation with the ensuing reports. In 1947 the Annual Report is a single document. In 1949 the cover underwent a major change with the addition of a large HBC coat of arms on a background of bold brown. In 1950 the Report was larger than ever before, the cover of yet a different colour, a map of Canada showing all the company's stores and offices inserted, and photographs were introduced! Over the following 20 years, HBC would constantly improve this format by introducing new fonts, colours, colour photographs and other elements of design.
After its 300th anniversary celebration in 1970, the company decided it was time to for a complete redesign of the Annual Report. In the following year the format was once more enlarged (to roughly its current size) and the visual elements of the report were made central to its design. Annual reports have now evolved into a competitive tool for organisations to disperse financial information, and inform both investors and potential investors about the Company' activities, strategy and outlook for the future. This change in approach has been recognised by the fact that there are now numerous design awards for the best Annual Reports.
The Annual Report was first made available in French in 1971. In 2003, along with the Annual Report, HBC issued its first-ever report outlining its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. These include such activities as charitable giving, ethical sourcing, environmental responsibility and associate wellness and development.
HBC was sold in March 2006 and was privately held until the fall of 2012. Subsequent to the sale it was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange. As a result of the timing, there was no Annual Report issued for 2006; the last published was that for 2005. However, all the company's public documents, including previous annual and quarterly reports as well as the prospectus and offer to purchase, can be found online at SEDAR (search Hudson's Bay Company). SEDAR, the System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval, was developed in Canada for Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) and lists all public document filings online. HBC continues to publish an annual CSR report which is available online.
With the return of HBC to the stock market in 2012, the tradition of the Annual Report will resume in spring 2013.