Summary. To what extent do financial statements of firms reflect changes in the economy? We address this question by using European Union data. European countries have a service, normally under the name of the Central Balance Sheet Office, which is charged with the collection and aggregation of financial information from commercial firms. For members of the European Union this information has been harmonized and published under the ‘Bank for the accounts of companies harmonised’ project of the European Commission. The data contained in the project's database for the manufacturing sector are analysed by using weighted multidimensional scaling techniques. This approach fully exploits the cross-sectional time series nature of the data and results in statistical maps which can be interpreted by means of regression-based techniques. It is found that three characteristics, or dimensions, describe the movements that are observed in the database: business performance, capital structure and macroeconomic influences. These three characteristics do not impact on all countries in a similar way. Differences between countries are explored. Two cycles, a business performance cycle and an economic cycle, are observed in the data. A delay of about 2 years is observed between the two cycles, suggesting that changes in the economy are reflected in financial statements with a 2-year delay.