The ability to find out how much a business made in profit in a given period largely depends on whether the company is publicly traded or not. Most publicly traded companies are required to report their profits quarterly to the public. Most private companies, however, have no such requirement.

Public Companies, Public Information

A company that has publicly traded stock on one of the major U.S. stock exchanges is required to publicly report its earnings every quarter. Companies usually do this by issuing a news release, and you can find the information on the investor relations section of the company's website. These reports not only show current earnings but also earnings from the same period a year earlier. The reports also are available in the Securities and Exchange Commission's EDGAR database. Another place where publicly traded companies report earnings is in their annual reports, which also are available on company websites and in the EDGAR database.

Private Firms Usually Keep Earnings Private

If a company is privately held, finding out how much profit it made is more difficult. Most such businesses are under no requirements to disclose financial information to anyone outside the company except investors and lenders, and many don't. However, some private companies do make their earnings public. These firms may provide the information on their websites or in their annual reports. Businesses also may voluntarily disclose such information as part of industry rankings or in media reports. Some privately held companies, such as banks, are required by regulatory agencies to disclose their profits. Business databases, such as Dun & Bradstreet, also may have information on private businesses' profits.