3 Earnings Surprises That Caught My Attention Last Week

Just because we're not knee-deep in earnings reports yet doesn't exactly mean that everyone is taking an earnings hiatus. During the first two weeks of the year, a handful of companies reported their quarterly results, with three in particular catching my attention for their earnings shortfalls.

Last week I looked at three earnings beats and reminded everyone that just because a company trumps Wall Street estimates, that doesn't necessarily make it a buy. Likewise, an earnings shortfall necessarily mean that a company is worth running away from, but it could be a sign that more trouble lies ahead. Here are three companies that missed Wall Street's estimates last week and could be worth keeping an eye on:

Company

Consensus EPS

Reported EPS

Surprise %

WD-40 (NAS: WDFC) $0.54 $0.42 (22%)
Standard Microsystems (NAS: SMSC) $0.34 $0.21 (38%)
Lennar (NYS: LEN) $0.17 $0.16 (6%)

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

WD-40
WD-40 is heralded for its many uses -- but beating Wall Street expectations must not be one of them.

Profits dropped 25% in its most recent quarter and revenue slightly missed forecasts as well. WD-40 blamed the weaker earnings on a shift toward less-profitable products, higher advertising costs and a restructuring of its North American supply chain. Although WD-40 was able to maintain its previous revenue and EPS guidance because of implemented price increases, I'm always leery of the "what ifs" that supply-chain redesigns bring up. With WD-40 having missed analyst estimates in three of its past four quarters, and trading at 16 times forward earnings yet only expected to grow sales at 6% this year and in 2013, I think you can do better elsewhere.

Standard Microsystems
Standard Microsystems continued a string of poor earnings reports from semiconductor stocks this week when it swung and missed badly on its third-quarter results. The company tried to blame a higher effective tax rate for its quarterly woes, but many investors instead chose to focus on management's comments that a weak demand environment and low post-holiday consumer product sales will translate into yet another loss (after one-time items) in the fourth quarter.

The thing to remember with Standard Microsystems is that its business, and the entire semiconductor sector for that matter, is highly cyclical. Demand seems to have peaked months ago. With demand a big question mark and gross margin slipping, I think you can find plenty of better places to invest your money.

Lennar
Just by looking at Lennar's stocks of late, you wouldn't think this company just missed Wall Street's consensus EPS by $0.01. Lennar, one of the nation's largest homebuilders, actually reported surprising growth in many aspects of its business. Orders were up 20%, deliveries rose 9%, and its backlog jumped 35% while home prices nosed up slightly.

Still, it's not hard to be skeptical of the homebuilding sector following so many years of poor results. Rival Hovnanian (NYS: HOV) is up 62% year to date despite the fact that it has missed Wall Street estimates in three of the past four quarters and its survival is still in question. Similarly, Standard Pacific (NYS: SPF) hasn't met earnings expectations in more than a year and is sporting a highly debt-heavy balance sheet . As long as unemployment rates remain historically high and housing prices remain depressed across the nation, I'm not ready to dive headfirst into the housing sector after just one snippet of data from Lennar.

Foolish roundup
Three companies with three earnings shortfalls. I've given my two cents on what's next for each of them; now it's your turn to sound off. Share your thoughts in the comments section below, and consider adding these stocks to your free and personalized watchlist to keep up on the latest news with each company.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He loves accidental inventions like WD-40. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy that believes free is the perfect price for the truth.

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